Cynthia Leitich Smith
Published 2007 310 pages
Summary (from the book jacket)
Quincie Morris has never felt more alone. Her hybrid-werewolf first love threatens to embark on a rite of passage that will separate them forever. And just as she and her uncle are about to debut Austin’s red hot vampire-themed restaurant, a brutal murder leaves them scrambling for a chef.
Can Quincie transform the new hire, Henry Johnson, into a culinary Dark Lord before opening night? Will he be able to wow the crowd in fake fangs, a cheap cape, and red contact lenses? Or is there more to this earnest fresh face than meets the eye?
As human and preternatural forces clash, a deadly love triangle forms and the line between predator and prey begins to blur. Who’s playing whom? And how long can Quincie play along before she loses everything?
Cynthia Leitich Smith is the author of several books and various stories for young readers. Tantalize is her first foray into young adult vampire fiction, and as Tantalize shows great potential, it hopefully won’t be her last.
Tantalize is narrated in first person by Quincie Morris, a seventeen year old high school senior from Austin, Texas. Dracula fans will recognise the name and Texas connection (Quincey P. Morris was the intrepid Texan who helped Jonathan Harker to kill Dracula, losing his own life in the process.) Young Quincie has no vampire slaying connections in her past; she is as she appears to be, a young woman struggling to finish high school while helping to manage Sanguini’s, the family restaurant that she has inherited.
Sanguini’s restaurant is central to the plot - most of the story takes place here rather than at Quincie’s home or school. The premise for the story is that restaurant profits had fallen since a new Italian restaurant opened near by, leading Quincie and her uncle to decide that Sanguini’s needed a re-Vamp, with a capital ‘V’ for Vampire. Even before the vampire themed restaurant opens the head chef is brutally murdered and the body count steadily continues to rise as the restaurant gets ready for opening night.
Quincie’s best friend and would–be boyfriend, Kieren, tries to warn her that a vampire themed restaurant could attract the wrong kind of attention from real vampires but his objections are ignored. After all Quincie has more to worry about than vampires, werewolf-human hybrid Kieren has announced he is going to leave Austin soon to join a far away wolf pack and he won’t be coming back.
While Tantalize shows great potential as a novel, the strength of writing is not consistent throughout the book. Quincie is in love with Kieren but because he is a wolf hybrid he won’t take it any further than being best friends with her. Quincie is a teenage girl about to lose her first love and her best friend but even though she is narrating the story in first person, giving her ample opportunity to voice her inner most thoughts, she doesn’t have much to say or think about this.
The stress of being responsible for the success of the family restaurant while trying to finish high school is dealt with in a similarly superficial manner. This leads to Quincie’s character seeming a little light weight and one-dimensional at times.
The true strength of the author’s writing shows when she writes about Sanguini’s. The food descriptions are both imaginative and exquisite and Quincie’s reaction upon being presented with a dessert of chilled baby squirrels (simmered in orange brandy and bathed in honey cream sauce) is an inspired mixture of revulsion and desire.
Taken at face value, Tantalize is both an original and entertaining read. While it lacks the lush romanticism and fairytale quality of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, Tantalize has its own unique charms. With a fast paced plot, imaginative fantasy and food to die for, Tantalize is a book you can devour in one sitting (or two if you’re on a diet!)
Above all, Tantalize is an enjoyable fun read which makes it recommended reading for teen vampire fans.
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