Pocket, $13.00, ISBN 1-4165-2038-4
Marta Acosta’s debut Happy Hour at Casa Dracula is a paranormal chick-lit story with a touch of Latina flavor rather than an erotic romp or an urban fantasy so do expect a Bridget Jones type of tale rather than Buffy redux or Debbie Does Vampires.
Milagro De Los Santos – yes, she’s heard before anything you may have to say about her name – is a wishy-washy chick-lit heroine who is currently a “reading consultant”. I think she’s in charge of determining what bored rich housewives in book clubs should read in a particular month. One evening she follows one of her clients to a book party which happens to be held to celebrate the latest work of her ex-boyfriend Sebastian Beckett-Witherspoon. Never mind that annoying fool, Mil finds herself distracted by a cute fellow who calls himself “Oswaldo Krakatoa”. They end up in his hotel room to get down and busy, but things go only as far as he biting her and they exchanging some blood by accident before things get confusing.
It’s confusing because Mil not only starts having a craving for blood, Sebastian turns out to be some kind of villainous whackjob, and Oswald’s cousin Gabriel ferrets Mil off to the vampire family estate where Mil learns that Oswald is engaged to another woman. Oops. And that Oswald’s grandmother Edna is not a woman to be trifled with. Oh, and Oswald’s last name is not Krakatoa, thank heavens.
Mil has a recognizable – and sometimes very derivative – chick-lit aspect to her character, complete with wisecracking ability and a genetic inability to find nice guys until all seems lost. However, this story is more like a lighthearted paranormal comedy patterned after Lynsay Sands’s vampire series rather than some gritty urban fantasy. Ms Acosta writes in a clear chick-lit manner but there is a happy ending here that is so unabashedly romantic in its sentiments that she may get her membership card permanently revoked by the chick-lit police if she is not careful. Ms Acosta has a light and breezy style and the story is well-paced.
However, I feel that the first third or so of the story is a chore to read and it is only afterwards that this book picks up considerably. The set-up of Mil’s meeting with Oswald feels very contrived. Some of the lines feel more stilted than amusing. I can imagine that some of Sebastian’s lines could be deliberately attempting to mirror a cackling Bond villain’s style because Ms Acosta wants me to view Sebastian as such but some of Oswald’s lines are also more awkward than amusing. For example, I cringe when Oswald at first tells Mil, “Your feminine wiles leave something to be desired.” I cringe again when he later tells her, “This joint is a bust. Let’s scram.” Oswald can sometimes speaks in a mix of stilted “I’m at a Jane Austen reenactment festival” style and a parody of some young surfer dude. I really don’t know what to make of him. He comes off like a very old man who imitates the way his great-grandsons speak in an attempt to come off as cool.
It is only in the second half or so of the story that Ms Acosta begins to pick things up. The vampire canon is given Ms Acosta’s own twist here and Edna is a scene-stealer.
On the whole, Happy Hour at Casa Dracula is a rather uneven story that I find a little tough to get into. But after a while things do pick up considerably, leading to a pretty amusing confrontation between the good guys and the bad guys. All in all, this is a so-so read with some interesting ideas and some fun scenes here and there.