By Sara Reinke. Zebra; 320 pgs., $3.99.
Romance novelists are now very serious about sinking their teeth into vampire storylines. Kentuckian Teresa Medeiros is just one writer who took a hiatus from more traditional historical subjects to earn bestselling results with “The Vampire Who Loved Me.” Sara Reinke, president-elect of Louisville Romance Writers, this summer gave us “Dark Thirst,” which has a veritable roller coaster of twists away from the tried-and-true romance plot.
Reinke’s vampire is prone to brooding, but he’s no dark alpha-male a la Heathcliff. Instead, he is Brandon Noble, whose emergence from adolescence as a deaf-mute and reluctant bloodsucker disappoints his family. They consider the shy young man to be damaged goods, but won’t let him leave the thoroughbred farm in Woodford County where they sate their bloodlust on migrant workers. Brandon escapes and reunites with the object of his teen crush — a black lady cop who’s a bit of a misfit herself. Soon she is getting a crash-course in dealing with the angry relatives who come after her new squeeze.
“Dark Thirst” is rife with potential hot buttons, giving a plot with interracial coupling, characters with distinct capabilities and even some kinky power plays. But Reinke said the publisher felt particularly grabbed by “the novelty of how things were explored in context of a vampire hero.” That was a relief to the author, who had worked on this story for many years. —T.E. Lyons
The Flawless Skin of Ugly People
By Doug Crandell. Virgin Books USA; 212 pgs. $14.95.
First we perceive beauty at a surface level — skin, nose, hair, complexion, weight. This is essentially how we code what is attractive, after which any number of events can work to conjoin or separate us from the object of that initial glance. Here, Doug Crandell’s debut novel cheats us out of the easy “hot or not” by challenging the concept of beauty at its core. His thesis: America has misinterpreted what it means to be beautiful.
He is, of course, right.
This is a weird love story about a relationship bent from the stress of its partners’ self-loathing and anxieties about appearance. Hobbie, the narrator, is nearing middle age and still suffering from acne vulgaris; Kari, his longtime live-in girlfriend, spends most of the novel away at a fat camp, corresponding with Hobbie exclusively through letters that range from heartbreaking to annoyingly vague. The two have spent years destroying themselves over a secret — way too damaging to reveal here — that is, ironically, why they are together at all.
Crandell, also the author of two memoirs, is graceful with his characters: none has too sharp an edge but they remain dynamic. In particular, Hobbie is a sympathetic and trustworthy narrator, if at times you wonder whether he’s too opportunistic. Crandell’s is an ugly everyman, but in some ways, aren’t we all? —Stephen George