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Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Author: Sarah Zettel 
Plot Type: CH
Ratings: V3; S2; H3
Publisher and Titles: Obsidian
      A Taste of the Nightlife (7/2011)
      Let Them Eat Stake (4/2012)

     This blog entry was revised and updated on 5/1/12 to include a review of the second book in the series: Let Them Eat Stake. That review comes first, followed by an overview of the world-building and a review of book 1:

       BOOK 2:  Let Them Eat Stake       
     As the story opens, Charlotte is running her restaurant, Nightlife, without the help of her brother, Chet, who has left to open his own business. Their always-tempestuous sibling relationship continues to be tense. When the city's self-proclaimed top chef, Oscar Simmons, pulls out of a catering job for a high-society wedding, Charlotte lets herself be talked into replacing him, thus earning a huge amount of money that she desperately needs to keep Nightlife afloat. She immediately regrets her decision when she learns that the bride, Deanna Alden, is a member of the Maddox family of witches (the same family that was involved in Charlotte's harrowing adventures in book 1) and the groom is a nightblood. The family patriarch, Lloyd Maddox, is the outspoken, activist leader of the anti-nightblood movement, and, naturally enough, he is absolutely opposed to his grand-daughter's inter-species marriage.  

     The plot cannot be easily summarized. Suffice it to say that early on in the story, Oscar Simmons dies suddenly and murder is suspected. Then, a valuable artifact disappears from the Alden's mantelpiece, and the plot turns on who stole it, why they stole it, and how Charlotte can recover it. There are so many devious, untruthful, hostile characters that the story soon becomes extremely convoluted. In order to keep the reader clear on the progress of the search, the author gives Charlotte frequent inner monologues in which she says things like, "I thought about this thing that I just found out. I thought about that other thing. I thought about something else," and so on, and so on—summarizing all of her clues and hunches up to that point. When a story needs to be recapitulated as it goes along, that means that there are way too many story lines, and/or they are not being clearly delineated. Needless to say, Charlotte eventually gets to the bottom of the mystery, but not without putting herself and her friends in grave danger

     Charlotte's two romantic interests remain the same: Brendan Maddox, the warlock grandson of Lloyd, and Anatole Sevarin, a powerful nightblood. Neither relationship goes beyond a few passionate kisses, maintaining the sensuality level of book 1. This, by the way, seems illogical to me. It's hard to believe that a thirty-something woman in New York City would be satisfied with a relationship that never went beyond kisses. I'm not advocating graphic sexual scenes, just a reality-based portrayal of modern love

     Once again, the food-preparation scenes are lengthy and detailed, to the point that I was page-turning to get past them and back to the action. The characters, both primary and secondary, are well drawn and complex enough to be interesting, except for Anatole, who comes across as a cardboard caricature of an old-world vampire. He's always elegant, patient, unruffled, and extremely bland (except in one critical scene near the end), and, unlike all of the other characters, he never demonstrates any emotional peaks and valleys. All in all, book 2 is a step down in quality from book 1. The final page of the book forecasts a turbulent time for book 3 as an influential person from Chet's past comes back to town

     This is a light and fluffy chick lit series with a human heroine whose restaurant, Nightlife, caters to the supernatural gourmands in Manhattan. Thirty-year-old Charlotte Caine is a master chef who has found her calling in "haute noir" dining—the preparation of liquid nourishment for vampires (aka nightbloods) and raw-meat-based meals for shifters. In this world, vampires can digest liquids other than blood, but no solids. Charlotte's brother, Chet, is the fanged one in the family, but Charlotte herself is a nonmagical human. In this world, nonmagical people—those who are not witches, werewolves, undead, or otherwise inherently magical—are called T-typs, an abbreviation for thauma-typical. As the series begins, Chet is handling Nightlife's books and managing the customers while Charlotte and her kitchen crew dish up the meals. 

     In this world, supernaturals have existed in an uneasy peace with the human population for 25 years, ever since the Change Time, when paranormals came out to the public. Soon after that, the Equal Humanity Acts was passed, which recognized vamps, shifters, and other "human derived paranormal peoples" as "people," but included strict regulations requiring the registration of all paranormals and mandated official fang impressions for werewolves and nightbloods. Unfortunately, a vociferous and sometimes violent group of supernatural haters is always trying to do them harm. Witches, in particular, would like to get rid of the other supernaturals, especially the vampires

       BOOK 1: A Taste of the Nightlife       
     As A Taste of the Nightlife opens, a vampire's arrogant human girlfriend (aka VT—vamp tramp) causes a scene in Nightlife, complicated by the interference of a drunken human male who seems to know the girl. Early the next morning when Charlotte comes to work, that same human male is lying dead in her foyer, drained of blood. From there, the plot gets very complicated. This story, in fact, is over-stuffed with plot, to the point of dizziness for the reader. 

     As Charlotte gets pulled into the murder investigation, she finds that she has two strong, handsome, sexy allies who are as different from one another as they could possibly be: Brendan Maddox is a security expert and a warlock who comes from a long line of famous witches, and he is a cousin of the murdered man. Anatole Sevarin is an ancient Russian vampire who writes a food column for the local vampire newspaper, and he seems to have an excessive fascination with the details of the murder. In addition to their interest in solving the murder, both men are also quite interested in pursuing a closer relationship with Charlotte. (In this book, the sensuality goes no further than innuendo and passionate kisses.) Unfortunately for Charlotte, she has one more man looking closely at her and her restaurant: Detective Linus O'Grady of the Paranormal Squadron (PS) of the New York City Police Department. O'Grady is certain that Charlotte and Chet know more than they are telling him. He's wrong about Charlotte; she hasn't got a clue about what's going on. But Chet is another story. Soon enough, Charlotte learns that Chet has been lying to her about a number of important things. 

     As clues come and go, as questions get asked and answered (some honestly, some not), and as more people join the ranks of suspects, the plot is as energized as a pan of popping corn. Parts of the resolution are telegraphed before they are revealed, but other parts are a complete surprise. This is definitely a book that you want to read straight through because of the complexity of the plot. 

     Zettel tells the story in the first person from Charlotte's point of view, and she handles the difficulties of that POV better than most. A Taste of the Nightlife has many aspects of cozy mysteries: the discovery of a dead body by an amateur sleuth who must contend with a variety of colorful suspects and several red herrings until she solves the crime all by herself. But this book has a lot more violence than the typical cozy mystery, including a scary vampire attack and a fiery vampire death, both with enough graphic details to make you grit your teeth and swallow hard. The scary scenes are balanced by lightweight foody episodes as Charlotte uses the mindless tasks involved in food prep to keep herself from self-destructing as her carefully constructed life begins to fall apart. All in all, this is a cute, somewhat violent, series with well-defined world building, interesting characters, and a complex plot line.

     In addition to the web site that is linked to Zettel's name at the beginning of this blog entry, Zettel is featured on the Book View Cafe web site. Zettel also writes under the names Marissa Day and CL Anderson.

1 comment:

  1. The Author's home page address has changed: