Audiobook Review: Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Tantalize Audiobook With Headphones and Wine Glass

About the Book

Audiobook cover for Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich SmithTitle: Tantalize
Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith
Read By:
Kim Mai Guest
Synopsis:

Are you predator or prey?

CLASSIFIED ADS: RESTAURANTS
SANGUINI’S: A VERY RARE RESTAURANT IS HIRING A CHEF DE CUISINE. DINNERS ONLY.
APPLY IN PERSON BETWEEN 2:00 AND 4:00 PM.

Quincie Morris has never felt more alone. Her parents are dead, and her hybrid-werewolf first love is threatening to embark on a rite of passage that will separate them forever. Then, as she and her uncle are about to unveil their hot vampire-themed restaurant, a brutal murder leaves them scrambling for a chef. Can Quincie transform their new hire into a culinary Dark Lord before opening night? Can he wow the crowd in his fake fangs, cheap cape, and red contact lenses or is there more to this earnest face than meets the eye? As human and preternatural forces clash, a deadly love triangle forms, and the line between predator and prey begins to blur. Who’s playing whom? And how long can Quincie play along before she loses everything? Tantalize marks Cynthia Leitich Smith’s delicious debut as a preeminent author of dark fantasy.

Review

1-star rating

Well, that was a mess.

I picked out this audiobook completely on a whim. I’m constantly in search of new books to listen to, as I have upwards of 10 commuting hours a week that need to be filled with audiobooks so I don’t go mad from boredom and/or road rage. Although I knew almost nothing about Tantalize, I liked its cover and title and decided to give it a whirl.

Not my greatest decision. I’m pretty sure Tantalize GAVE me road rage instead of preventing it.

I usually enjoy YA vampire stories (I will love the Twilight series until the day I die, terrible movies be damned), but the ridiculousness and stupidity of Tantalize grated on my nerves. If I had to describe my feelings towards this book in one word, I think “scathing” would be the most accurate choice.

Tantalize’s main character is Quincie Morris, an orphaned teenager being raised by her uncle in Texas. Quincie has inherited her parents’ Italian restaurant, and although it’s her pride and joy, it’s not flourishing as it should. So, how do Quincie and her Uncle Davidson decide to turn things around? By transforming their family restaurant into a theatrical, exclusive, vampire-themed restaurant, of course! You see, vampires and werewolves are real in the world of Tantalize, and even though most people are afraid of them, they apparently also want the thrill of dining in a restaurant that glorifies vampires and has staff pretend to be vampires.

Unfortunately for Quincie and her Uncle Davidson, someone brutally murders their chef shortly before their restaurant’s grand reopening. They scramble to find a replacement and end up with 20-something Henry, who Quincie is tasked with prepping for his spectacular debut as executive chef/master of ceremonies/lord of the night. This involves doing everything from finding Henry the perfect vampire duds to helping him create a darkly exotic new menu.

This brings me to my first problem with Tantalize: Quincie and her uncle’s efforts to convert their restaurant into a vampire fantasyland don’t make any sense. It’s not so much the theme itself that seems bizarre – I’ll be the first to admit I love attending Renaissance Faires, murder mystery dinners, and any event that involves costumes and playacting – but the way the Morrises go about their plans for the restaurant seem random at times and over-the-top at others. For example, why is the chef sashaying around the restaurant every night reciting monologues in full vampire attire? Shouldn’t he be spending his time, oh, I don’t know…cooking? And why does it take days upon days for Quincie and Henry to select just the right clothing for Henry’s costumes, and to select the “perfect” name for Henry’s vampire alter ego? And speaking of which, what makes anyone think that perfect name is BRADLEY, of all the options they could possibly have chosen from?!

There’s a lot that doesn’t make sense in this book, to be honest, like the many seemingly pointless scenes that don’t do anything to move the story along. I also found myself questioning nearly all of Quincie’s reactions and decisions:

– Why, when your family friend has been murdered, do you immediately and automatically suspect your CLOSEST FRIEND, who’s always had your back, of being the murdered? Instead of, hmm…just about any other, far more likely culprit?

– Why, when you’re a 17-year-old girl, do you think it’s normal to be spending all of your time one-on-one with an older guy you barely know, even if he is your uncle’s new employee? Why do you not care that it’s super weird and inappropriate for him to come on to you, and especially for your own uncle to insinuate that there’s something between the two of you to the point of nearly encouraging it?

– Why don’t you think it’s weird that two grown men, including your legal guardian, are suddenly plying you with alcohol at every opportunity, even in the morning? Especially when your uncle apparently never let you underage-drink before the creepy new chef started? Hmm, maybe that’s a sign that something weird is gong on!!!!

In short, Quincie, you’re as dumb as a rock and I have no idea how you’ve survived for 17 years.

Kim Mai Guest, the narrator for this audiobook, didn’t help matters. Her “Quincie” voice was way too cutesy, almost babyish, and was the aural equivalent of a cheese grater to the face. While Guest’s voices for Henry and Uncle Davidson weren’t bad, her portrayal of Quincie’s male friends was awful. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out which cartoon or movie character the guys sounded like, and I finally realized it was Babe the Pig.

I do suspect I might’ve been able to tolerate Tantalize a little better if I’d read it in print as opposed to listening to the audiobook. Sure, Quincie would’ve still been infuriating, and the story would’ve still been ridiculous, but maybe it would’ve seemed a teensy bit less ridiculous if I’d been able to reread certain parts and try to make more sense of them. Then again, maybe not. At the very least, I wouldn’t have had to put up with the narrator’s piping, saccharine take on Quincie’s voice for hours on end. I’m pretty sure that voice is what pushed me over the edge and drove me to be completely and utterly annoyed by every aspect of the book by its conclusion.

Review: The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause

The Silver Kiss Book Cover The Silver Kiss
Annette Curtis Klause

Zoe is wary when, in the dead of night, the beautiful yet frightening Simon comes to her house. Simon seems to understand the pain of loneliness and death and Zoe's brooding thoughts of her dying mother.

Simon is one of the undead, a vampire, seeking revenge for the gruesome death of his mother three hundred years before. Does Simon dare ask Zoe to help free him from this lifeless chase and its insufferable loneliness?

Review:

Whatever you do, please, please, please don’t write off The Silver Kiss as a paranormal romance. The cover and synopsis make this book seem like a vampire love story, and while there’s nothing wrong with such novels – I personally am a big Twilight fan – this isn’t an accurate reflection of what The Silver Kiss is about. There is desire between Simon and Zoe, and vampires do play a huge part in this book, but this story is NOT about a vampire and human falling in love.

In a way, The Silver Kiss reminds me a lot of Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls in that it uses supernatural beings as a lens to examine death, grief, and loss. Zoe, the protagonist, is a 16-year-old whose mother is dying of cancer. Zoe’s best friend doesn’t know how to deal with Zoe’s grief, and her father is forever at the hospital, leaving Zoe to provide for her own needs, both practical and emotional. On the rare occasions when Zoe is permitted to visit her mother it’s only for a short time, and she’s limited to exchanging pleasantries and small talk, unable to confide in her mother for fear of upsetting her. In short, at a time when Zoe desperately needs someone to lean on, she is left completely alone.

When walking in the park one night, Zoe stumbles upon Simon, a vampire who has spent the past several centuries lonely and adrift. Although he flees from the park before they can speak, Simon can’t help but be entranced by Zoe’s misery. Her aura of desolation and fear is like a beacon, calling to him like nothing else has for centuries. Simon is just as isolated as Zoe, albeit in a different way. Everyone he’s ever loved is dead and gone, and he’s cut off from the living, doomed to forever wander the earth alone:

“Like a shadow he could only live on the edge of people’s lives, never touched or touching except to bring a cold shiver like a cloud over the sun, like a shroud over the corpse. The only time he touched, it was death, yet that was the only thing that proved he existed at all.”

Simon is clearly not human, clearly other, and – as he himself laments – unnatural:

“‘I am at odds with nature […] and the whole natural world tries to remind me of this. The sun burns me; and when I cross running water, I can feel it trying to heave me off the face of the earth. It makes me sick to my stomach.’”

Zoe’s despair makes her the first kindred spirit Simon’s come upon in ages, and he soon becomes obsessed with her. He begins following her, watching her, and at one point even marks his territory by urinating near her house:

“He went to her helplessly, drawn by her fear. He couldn’t help but touch her to taste it.”

This sounds a little creepy…because it is. After 300 years of existence, Simon is so far from the human being he used to be that he doesn’t recognize his behavior as disturbing. He’s a provocative character, chilling while also beguiling, haunting yet poetic, savage as well as vulnerable. The fact that Simon is so unbalanced fits with the theme of this book: the inevitability of death. Simon has cheated death for centuries, but at great cost to his sanity. The irony of eternal life is that such an existence isn’t actually life at all.

Simon’s circumstance is compelling in juxtaposition with Zoe’s, who must find a way to come to terms with her mother’s illness and inevitable death. The relationship between Simon and Zoe is wonderfully allegorical, and this makes it a little easier to accept some of the strangeness of their interactions. For example, one of the things that originally bothered me for much of The Silver Kiss was how easily Zoe’s initial fear and skepticism towards Simon were overridden. Her mother’s dying, her life is falling apart, yet she starts keeping company with a deadly, unhinged 300-year-old vampire? It struck me as a little crazy. Once I reached the end of the book, though, I saw that Zoe and Simon’s situation was symbolic. Because of my appreciation for the message that was being conveyed through this symbol, I was able to overlook some of the blips in the delivery. Klause’s elegant writing style helped with this as well – I luxuriated in every word:

You could rush into your death unknowing, inviting, enjoying the ecstasy of it, burned up in bright light like a moth.”

“Motionless, yet taut with energy, he was like a dancer a breath before movement.”

Even if you’re not typically a fan of vampire novels, I strongly suggest you give The Silver Kiss a chance. It’s got so many layers of hidden meaning, gorgeous prose, and an ending that is powerful, moving, and right. I loved it, and I suspect that you will too.

Review: The Day Human Prince by B. Kristin McMichael

The Day Human Prince Book Cover The Day Human Prince
B. Kristin McMichael

Devin Alexander grew up as the only day human in a world surrounded by night humans who drank blood, sometimes his blood. He spent his life training toward one goal: the protection of one of those blood drinkers, Arianna Grace. But what is he supposed to do when the blue-eyed girl of the legends doesn’t need him anymore? What does his life mean then? How is a guy supposed to move on when the girl he has yearned over for a decade has chosen someone else?

Before he can even start to figure out his new life without Arianna, Devin has to deal with another problem. He needs to take care of some unfinished business with a night human he has known for less than a month, but with whom he is magically bound.

Vanessa McKinny has promised that she knows a way to undo the spell she placed on Devin to save his life. Devin would do anything to break the bond to be free of her, even if it means traveling to the sidhe village, a place inhabited by a race of night humans that has not had a day human visitor in more than a hundred years. If he doesn’t want to get stuck, he must work with Nessa to find a way to break the bond. Only then can Devin have time to get back to finding his new goal in life, unless he discovers that his path lies with the sidhe.

Review:

A free copy of this book was provided by Xpresso Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Several years ago, my husband convinced me to watch X-men: The Last Stand. I protested that I hadn’t seen the first two X-men movies and wouldn’t understand if I started with the third one, but he assured me I’d be able to follow along. I conceded, and we proceeded to watch the film. About half an hour in I still had no idea who the characters were or why they were doing what they were doing, and I kept asking my husband what was happening. His answer, consistently, was: “Oh, if you’d seen the first two movies it would make more sense.”

Reading The Day Human Prince was a similar experience. When I started the book, I had no idea that it was a spin-off of McMichael’s Blue Eyes trilogy. I was disappointed by the one-dimensional characters and lack of strong world building. Once I discovered that the action had begun in a previous series, though, it made sense that everything wasn’t being explained in detail. The foundation had already been laid in Blue Eyes. I’d just missed it.

Everything that seemed remotely interesting in The Day Human Prince – Devin’s unrequited love for Arianna Grace, his tragic history, details about the night human culture – was apparently dealt with in the Blue Eyes books and only mentioned briefly in this spin-off. It was a letdown, and though the plot was decent I think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d read the preceding books.

Then again, maybe not, because I had a huge problem with this book that had nothing to do with the plot or characters: the writing is terrible.

There’s so much that bothers me about McMichael’s writing style that I don’t know where to start. The phrasing is awkward, the sentence structure is off, and there’s endless explanation about things that really don’t require it. What really got me, though, was the point of view.

As a general rule, I prefer first-person to third-person. There are several fantastic books that use third-person successfully (The Raven Boys, the Harry Potter books, most of the novels in The Queen’s Thief series), but there are also myriad novels that don’t. They distance the reader from the characters, rely heavily on telling rather than showing, and engage in head-hopping, which always drives me batty. There are several instances of each of these problems in The Day Human Prince. They’re hard to overlook, and I found myself becoming distracted from the plot because I was so bothered by the writing.

There are also a few other niggling tidbits, like insta-love and absurd superhuman abilities – Devin can snatch an invisible arrow out of the air on its way to a target, for example – that kept me from truly appreciating this book. All of the good stuff – like cool magic and sleeping sidhe kings waiting to be awakened– gets overwhelmed by the parts that are less than great.

I may not have given this book a very positive review, but I will say that there are people who will really love The Day Human Prince, especially those who read and enjoyed the Blue Eyes trilogy. Many of my complaints about this book – particularly the ones about the point of view – are based purely on personal preference, so don’t automatically let me dissuade you from reading it. Instead, I recommend going to Amazon and checking out a few sample pages. If you’re ok with McMichael’s writing style, this may be a better book for you than it was for me.

Five Reasons to Read Nameless by Lili St. Crow

Nameless Book Cover Nameless
Lili St. Crow

When Camille was six years old, she was discovered alone in the snow by Enrico Vultusino, godfather of the Seven—the powerful Families that rule magic-ridden New Haven. Papa Vultusino adopted the mute, scarred child, naming her after his dead wife and raising her in luxury on Haven Hill alongside his own son, Nico.

Now Cami is turning sixteen. She’s no longer mute, though she keeps her faded scars hidden under her school uniform, and though she opens up only to her two best friends, Ruby and Ellie, and to Nico, who has become more than a brother to her. But even though Cami is a pampered Vultusino heiress, she knows that she is not really Family. Unlike them, she is a mortal with a past that lies buried in trauma. And it’s not until she meets the mysterious Tor, who reveals scars of his own, that Cami begins to uncover the secrets of her birth... to find out where she comes from and why her past is threatening her now.

Review:

(Actual rating: 4.5 stars)

Imagine if, instead of seven dwarves, Snow White were rescued by the fairy tale equivalent of the Mafia. And imagine if said Mafia, known as the Family, were vampires.

Did I get your attention there? Good. Because I really, really want you to read Nameless. And I really want you to love it as much as I did so I have someone else to talk to about how amazing this book is. In case you need more persuasion than just my assertion that Vampire Mob + Snow White = Awesomeness, though, here are five reasons you should read this book:

  1. The unique approach to Snow White: It’s not just the vampire Mafia that sets Nameless apart from traditional Snow White retellings. Camille, the heroine, is no vapid, flawlessly beautiful princess who cheerfully cleans the house and sings to forest animals. Instead, she’s a foundling whose traumatic, abuse-filled childhood has left her with a stuttering tongue, crippling shyness, and scars all over her body. Though lovingly raised by the head of the Family and treated as his own daughter, Cami suffers from self doubt and can’t shake the feeling that she’ll never truly belong. She longs to know who she really is and where she came from, but she doesn’t remember much of her early years beyond a sense of horror and flickering visions of a cold and beautiful queen. When mysterious strangers begin appearing in her life and apple-and-mirror-filled dreams begin haunting her, Cami senses that the answers to her questions could finally be within reach, and she won’t stop until she figures them out.
  1. Drool-inducing romance: Nameless wins the award for some of the most swoon-worthy scenes not involving an actual kiss. I’ve always had a thing for literary bad boys, and Nico Vultusino, Cami’s adopted brother, definitely fits the bill. He’s got a fiery temper, chafes against his role as heir to the Family, and has a propensity for staying out late, starting fights, and generally getting into trouble. And yet, Nico is an absolute sweetheart when it comes to Cami. The two have an adorable relationship, one that started as rivals-turned-playmates when they were children and turned into something more as they grew up. The history between them means they know each other inside and out, and it’s so cute watching Cami pull Nico out of one of his moods and seeing Nico soothe Cami when she has nightmares. Their relationship is not just sweet, though – it’s also hot. There’s one scene in particular that left me in a swoon at one point. You’ll know it once you’re there, but here’s a hint: Book. Candle. Nico. *Cue Angela fainting dead away from an overload of desire*
  1. Characters with backstories: I hate when characters’ lives seem to occur solely within the timeline of the main events of the book. You know what I mean – characters who don’t have a believable past, whose lives begin when the book begins and end when the book ends. This isn’t the case with Nameless. You can tell that the characters have a history. There’s mention of the games Cami and Nico played as kids, the family photos they posed for that now adorn the fridge, the tales they made up together and the futures they imagined. The comfortable camaraderie Cami shares with her friends is evidence of years of friendship. You know that Cami and the others have childhood memories and inside jokes and family stories, even if the specifics aren’t necessarily shared with you. It makes them feel like real people, not just words on a page.
  1. Excellent world building: The number of details St. Crow casually throws out there in Nameless is staggering – it’s clear that she spent a great deal of time imagining every facet of her world. That doesn’t mean she intends to hold your hand and patiently outline the rules of her world, though. Nameless is one of those books where the reader is expected to figure out the setting by his or herself without an explanation from the author. St. Crow leaves you to piece together a picture of New Haven using the various details she’s provided. She tells you the makes and models of the cars, mentions the names of various months and holidays, alludes to religion (when swearing, characters invoke the name of Mithrus Christ rather than Jesus Christ), and references various magical terms such as Twists, jacks, Potential, the Core, etc. It’s a beguiling world, and I drank up all of the descriptions with the enthusiasm of a woman dying of thirst in the desert.
  1. The Family: I love the vampire Godfather vibe that the Family has going. The Vultusinos and the other vampires of New Haven live a life of danger cloaked in luxury. They roll around in limos while sipping fine whiskey mixed with calf blood, attend grand parties, and enjoy enormous power and respect. People who give them trouble mysteriously “disappear,” questionable business is conducted behind closed doors, and much of New Haven’s law enforcement is in the Family’s pocket. Combine all of this with fascinating vampire customs – a complex hierarchy, Borrowing, the Kiss – and you’ve got the makings of a very intriguing book.

There you go, everyone – five reasons why you should read Nameless. Now get out there, track down a copy, and get to reading! And let me know when you’re done so we can gush about it together!

Review: Sunshine by Robin McKinley

Sunshine Book Cover Sunshine
Robin McKinley

There are places in the world where darkness rules, where it's unwise to walk. Sunshine knew that. But there hadn't been any trouble out at the lake for years, and she needed a place to be alone for a while.

Unfortunately, she wasn't alone. She never heard them coming. Of course you don't, when they're vampires.

They took her clothes and sneakers. They dressed her in a long red gown. And they shackled her to the wall of an abandoned mansion - within easy reach of a figure stirring in the moonlight.

She knows that he is a vampire. She knows that she's to be his dinner, and that when he is finished with her, she will be dead. Yet, as dawn breaks, she finds that he has not attempted to harm her. And now it is he who needs her to help him survive the day...

Review:

In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I should preface this review by admitting that I’m a little bit enamored of Robin McKinley. I’ve been smitten since the day I stumbled across The Blue Sword in my middle school’s library and was blown away by the brilliant adventures of the heroic Harry Crewe. I consider McKinley a story-telling master, and some of her novels rank among my top twenty books of all time.

That being said, the phrase “love is blind” definitely applies here. My adoration for Ms. McKinley is so great that it allows me to be more tolerant of some of her books than others might be. I love Spindle’s End, Outlaws of Sherwood, and The Hero and the Crown so much that I can overlook some of the weaknesses in Deerskin and Pegasus. In fact, I admire McKinley so much that I pretend Chalice was never written, just so I don’t have to accept the ugly truth that I dislike one of McKinley’s novels.

Now that I’ve shared all of this with you, you know to take my review of Sunshine with a grain of salt. I’ve decided to give it a rating of four stars, even though I have a feeling that some of you might read the novel and get rather annoyed with me for having recommended it.

Sunshine is about a 25ish-year-old baker named Rae Seddon, known as Sunshine. Sunshine lives in a world much like our own, except for the presence of magic and creatures who aren’t quite human. These non-humans are referred to as Others, a category that includes demons, Weres, and, most interestingly, vampires.

The vampires in McKinley’s story are a far cry from the brooding, sexy immortals in Twilight. There’s nothing romantic about these guys – they’re dead, alien, and frightening. They’re mesmerizing, true, but they’re also unnatural and unsettling. They smell different, feel different, and look different – and not in a good way. Most people, if they’re lucky, are able to go through life without ever running into a vampire. Sunshine isn’t so lucky.

While walking in the woods near her grandmother’s house, Sunshine is captured by vampires. Rather than killing her outright, they lock her in a room with another vampire, who’s chained, starved, and clearly a prisoner as well. Sunshine and the vampire, Constantine, are forced to forge an uneasy alliance in order to escape. Once they make their getaway, Sunshine returns home and tries to pick up where she left off. She does her best to repress the memories of the terrifying ordeal but finds this harder than expected, especially when she discovers that the vampires she’s escaped from are determined to get her and Con back.

Sunshine is an arresting story, and I found myself completely absorbed by it. McKinley’s greatest strength as an author lies in her meticulousness. She knows every thought her characters have ever had, every dream, every worry. She can tell you the entire history of the world and society she’s built and can cite the textbooks that hold that history. She’s always in control, has a great imagination, and writes in such a way that you can’t help but get caught up in her characters’ lives and feel like you’re actually a part of the book and the events within it.

Unfortunately, McKinley’s meticulousness can also be a weakness. It often results in information overload, a complaint I have for all of her books. She knows her characters and the worlds in which they live so intimately that it’s like she can’t help but share the minuscule details of their lives with the reader, whether the reader wants to know them or not. I usually like plenty of details when reading, but in this case there were more than I could handle.

Sunshine, for example, has a tendency to mentally ramble on and on about bran muffins and bread dough and different types of flour and whether she should make apple tarts or cherry tarts, etc., etc. It gets frustrating after a while. I felt like I spent a lot of time wading through trivial details in order to get to the juicy bits, a.k.a. the bits featuring Constantine.

Speaking of Constantine, I never got enough of him. I know it’s conventional wisdom to always leave an audience wanting more, but there’s a difference between enticing a reader and leaving them dissatisfied. I’m among the legion of fans clamoring for a sequel, though I’m not so sure we’ll ever get one.

Either way, I’m glad I was able to experience Sunshine. It’s not perfect, and there are some things about it that seriously grated on my nerves at times. When it comes down to it, though, it’s a) a book by Robin McKinley and b) a book about vampires, which is really all I need to be happy.