Monday, August 13, 2007

Vampires? What Vampires?

Marta Acosta - Milagro de Los Santos/ Casa Dracula series
Be sure to check out Marta's great additional blog, VampireWire.

1. Happy Hour at Casa Dracula

2. Midnight Brunch

Series Category: Peanut M&Ms - mmmm...devour... sigh... then reach for the next one. My daily dose of Insanity-B-Gone. Most books fall in this category. (A-,B+,B)
Flame Height: 3" out of 9"

I mentioned before that I was having a very hard time writing a commentary for these books because I could not put them down, yet I also couldn't find an EASY explanation of WHY they were so damn good. Seriously, I was up till after 3 AM reading the first book. Then I made the mistake of bringing the second book with me on a getaway with my husband and the pages kept calling to me. When trying to figure out what I wanted to say here about these books, I'd pick them up and immediately was completely absorbed in them again.

Let's start with the basic premise of book 1, Happy Hour at Casa Dracula. From Booklist via Amazon:

"...Milagro de Los Santos is minding her own business at a book party for Sebastian, the ex-boyfriend she's not quite over, when Oswald, a mysterious, handsome stranger approaches her. The chemistry between them is potent, but after they accidentally exchange blood during a powerful kiss, Milagro finds herself feeling strange. Suddenly Sebastian becomes interested in her again, though when he tries to abduct her it's clear he's more interested in her encounter with Oswald than in rekindling their romance. She's rescued by Oswald's cousin, Gabriel, who spirits her off to the family home, where Oswald, his prickly grandmother, Edna, and his other cousin, Sam, take her in for her protection. Although they are vampires, they insist on referring to their state as a "condition," and now they're worried Milagro might also be infected. Sebastian is part of a sinister group determined to investigate the vampires, and Milagro is realizing that her passion for the seductive Oswald is conquering her feelings for Sebastian. A fun, snappy read for romantic fantasy fans. "

Now book 2, Midnight Brunch, is just as engrossing as book 1. From Fresh Fiction:
" What's a girl to do when she discovers she's the main course on the menu?
Hip, funny Milagro de los Santos thinks she's finally found love and a home at the California ranch of fabulous Oswald Grant and his urbane relatives, who have a rare genetic disorder that some call vampirism. But Milagro is bewildered when she's excluded from an ancient and mysterious midnight ceremony whose participants include Oswald's unfriendly parents, a creepy family elder, and Milagro's ex-lover, the powerful and decadent Ian Ducharme. What skeletons are the vampires keeping in their designer closets?
When Milagro's life is threatened by a rogue family member, she flees to the desert to hide. Instead of solitude, she encounters an egomaniacal actor, a partying heiress, a sly tabloid reporter, and a lavish spa full of dark secrets -- all of which might help her find a way home.

Those are the basic FACTS. But these books are so multi-faceted that a perusal of the multi-star Amazon reviews and commentaries for both books will have you wondering if each person read a completely different version. It's very interesting to see the different aspects that each Reader focused on.

The comparisons. "A cross between Bridget Jones's Diary and Interview with the Vampire." I haven't read either one, so I'll take their word for it. "Stephanie Plum meets Sex and the City in this sassy, stylish, hilarious novel." Mmmm, no, not seeing that comparison. If you put a gun to my head and told me I HAD to make a comparison or die, I guess I would say that, if you like MaryJanice Davidson's Queen Betsy series, you'll LOVE the Milagro stories.

And I know this is going to sound completely random, but bear with me here, okay? Do you remember the first seasons of the TV shows E.R. and Lost? Remember how they were so fast paced and so engrossing that, when they were showing the previews at the end, you couldn't believe an entire hour could possibly have flown by that fast? That's what reading these books is like! They're not gasping-for-breath, heart pounding type of stories, but rather you get so caught up in these fast paced books that you just HAVE to find out what happens next. Where will Milagro's adventures take her now?

The genres. chick lit, paranormal chick lit, chica lit, romantic fantasy, romantic comedy, romantic suspense. Yeah, those are all in there. Sort of. See, when I see the terms chick lit or romantic comedy, I think fluff, flippant, slapstick, and one-liners. And these books DO have all that on the surface. But they have so many more layers. Whether as dialogue with another character or sharing her thoughts with us, most of Milagro's humor and WIT is born from heartache (and avoiding more of it) or affection. She wants so much to be loved and accepted for who she is, yet she hides that need and hurt behind her clever words. Even with those that do care about her, her first response is always humor. You know, I just realized that I TRULY think of that wit as Milagro's, not Marta Acosta's! Says a lot about BOTH of them, doesn't it?

The vampires. They're not. Vampires, that is. Well, they ARE, but this gentrified, upper class, seemingly snobby family (Oswald and Winnie are successful physicians, Sam is an accomplished attorney) thinks of it simply as a genetic condition that makes them sensitive to the sun and crave blood. They savor the various animal blood types in much the same way wine aficionados savor the bouquets of their favorite vintages. What about HUMAN blood? Well, other than during "intimate" encounters (there are a few in these books but they are sensual, not graphic), this particular branch of the family considers itself far too civilized to indulge in that base hunger. However, members of the extended family revel in their superiority over mere humans and proudly embrace their vampirism. (I hope we get another visit from cousin Ian in book 3-- hint, hint Marta).

Milagro. You know the saying "Life is what happens when you are making other plans."? Well, Milagro, in additional to possessing a keen wit and intelligence, is also determined to be a successful writer. Since graduating from a WASPy Fancy University (F.U.), she's been quite EARNEST in writing books that MEAN something. Like zombies as a metaphor for the plight of migrant workers in South America. No, seriously, that's the type of oh-so-serious stories she writes. The problem is that she just doesn't see all the other things that she's already successful at like landscape design, teaching, and PEOPLE. After feeling rejected by her own parents, she doesn't realize that she has built her own family made up of friends (although Nancy pisses me off) and, eventually, this new family that comes to love her.

Milagro is a study in contrasts. On the one hand, she embraces her ethnicity. When she walks into a crowded space like a party, the first thing she does is count and try to connect with the people she can relate to- Latinos and other minorities, the serving staff, etc. Yet, on the other hand, she wants to be accepted and feel at home with the "Country Club" set that she attended college with. Although, what is particularly appealing is that Milagro doesn't even TRY to fit in with that homogeneous group. Nope, this earthy, colorful woman, whose idea of subtle means letting one coat of mascara dry before she glomps on the next coat, wants them to accept her for herself, just the way she is.

Another interesting contrast is that she seems to have quite a high self esteem about her looks, but let's her outward bravado hide her inner lack of confidence. When things go wrong for her, she jokes about it, yet inside she just accepts it as her lot in life. And when GOOD things happen, when people care, she never believes it will last because she never quite believes she deserves it.

Bottom Line. Maybe Marta Acosta summed up these books herself through Milagro when the family is discussing the works of a writer named Dena Franklin, who is also an ongoing "character" in the book...
"Franklin's style is light, but that's what she's trying to achieve, like a great flan, you know." They all looked at me as if I was an idiot, so I elaborated. "I mean, flan tastes delicate and silky, but it's got tons of eggs and cream -- it's substantial. "

"Yum, flan"

Piquant Opines: RT, RT, SBs, SBs, Vampire Genre, PB Reader,


Marta said...

Thanks for the kind review, and I'm so glad you get what I'm doing! You'll be happy to know that debauched and delicious cousin Ian will be making a significant appearance in the third Casa Dracula novel. And Milagro, freak magnet that she is, will attract all new troubles.

QB said...

BWAHAHAHA! What a PERFECT description of Ian- "debauched and delicious"!!

And I can't WAIT for Milagro's new adventure- I couldn't even GUESS at what she'll get herself into next!