Today we have a review from Book review team member Barb, she blogs at http://barbtaub.com/
Barb chose to read and review Relative Strangers by Helen Treharne
Here’s Barb’s review.
What does it say about me that I liked the vampires in RelativeStrangers: A Modern Vampire Story better than I liked its heroine? The vamps aren’t emo teens, they’re not particularly sexy, they don’t fall in love with human waitresses, and they aren’t the nice guy next door who happens to be on a liquid diet. They’re mean, sneaky, often stupid, and very strong. Sunlight doesn’t kill them, garlic and churches don’t seem to bother them, and they don’t have to kill their victims—although they really, really want to. They are monsters who exist on a spectrum that ranges from inhumane to nonhuman-but-can-keep-it-together-if-absolutely-necessary. Best of all? They don’t sparkle.
Sophie Morgan is a young British woman raised by her grandparents and single mother with a solid moral foundation and work ethic. She’s done well in school and is successfully getting her career off the ground. When her boyfriend dumps her in an epic passive-aggressive mean—“I don’t want you to think he left a message for me on my answer machine. No, no, that would have been kind by comparison. He recorded a message on his voicemail to say if the caller was me that ‘it’s best we just call it a day, sorry.'”—Sophie’s best friend drags her off to a mini-vacation in Antwerp.
Life, as Sophie knows it, will never be the same. Somehow, Antwerp seems to be crawling with vampires who (despite preternatural speed and strength, not to mention immortality) devote their energies to a purse-snatching ring. She’s attacked, but survives with a wound that mysteriously heals almost instantly. In spite of her horrific experience, she and a sexy Irish bartender decide to return in the middle of the night to the scene of her attack, with predictably near-fatal consequences.
Clearly, this isn’t a book about making good choices. Oddly enough, I find that one of its charms. Like the vampires, Sophie and the other characters exist on a spectrum that affirms their human flaws. For the most part, Relative Strangers is a fast-paced, exciting read. But there were two consistent areas that were a problem for me. The first was the occasional lapse into lengthy but somewhat irrelevant tell. For example, Chapter One starts with a graphic description of Sophie waking up to hear an intruder in her house. It’s exciting in a “No-o-o-o, dumb-blonde teen, don’t go into the basement!” sort of way, especially when she proceeds to pound said intruder into vamp tartare. Great start, but unfortunately you have to wait until nearly the end of the book to find out what was going on there. Instead, Chapter Two starts out with the honest truth, “My life hadn’t always been this dramatic.” Sophie then goes on to document that lack of excitement at a detail level that could only be justified by having future plot points hang in the balance—only they don’t.
My second issue is the abrupt change in point of view from Sophie’s somewhat manic first person to a variety of third person/randomly omniscient narrators. As a writer who has tried to present alternating points of view, I can appreciate the difficulty, as well as the reasons for interweaving the story lines. But as a reader, this change was so abrupt and unexplained that it pulled me out of the story and even had me flipping back pages to try and figure out what happened to the context.
The main characters were entertaining and well-rounded. Sophie’s love interest, Irish bartender Mickey Kelly, is sweet but not too bright. Sophie herself has a strong and engaging voice, although there are a few unexplained things that didn’t really add up. How is it that Sophie—who we’re told is short and spends her days at a desk job—can outrun vampires, survive their attacks, and even wallop them to a pulp? Why do they show up wherever she goes, and attack her in such numbers?
Overall, I’d give Relative Choices three and a half stars. It was entertaining and an updated look at the genre. I enjoyed the British flavor of lines like “Lovely tea, distracting tea, it helps make everything better.” But I thought another round of careful editing could have addressed the issues that pulled me out of the story—the unfortunate number of edit and autocorrect fails, the pacing broken up by long passages of description, and the confusing point of view shifts. On the plus side, author Helen Treharne has done a particularly good job of winding up this story arc. She leaves just enough unanswered questions to set Sophie up for the next book in the series, and to have me looking forward to Book 2.