A Girl’s Guide to Vampires (2003) by Katie MacAlister is a laugh-out-loud funny introduction to the world of “Dark Ones” — that is, vampires — and the rules about them (which are somewhat different from your typical vampire read). You’ll get many steamy scenes with descriptions of sex (almost entire in euphemisms), so hold on tight!
The novel is narrated by Joy, a six-foot-tall woman who is best friends with Roxy. The two Americans head to the Czech Republic to find out more about, and try to meet, their favorite author C.J. Dante, who writes the Dark Ones series. That puts Katie MacAlister’s novel squarely in meta-fiction territory. It’s a book about Dark Ones that has characters in love with books about Dark Ones. Basically, A Girl’s Guide to Vampires knows what kind of novel it is and comments on that. In the Czech Republic, the friends meet several mysterious men: Raphael, Dominic, Milos, and Christian. When Joy starts having visions of someone (undead) feeding on blood, caressing her body, and calling out to her in her thoughts, and and Roxy just knows from reading the Dante books that it’s a vampire! But can Joy and Roxy figure out which guy it is and convince him Joy isn’t his “beloved” and that he shouldn’t join his soul with hers?
Though I read the paperback copy twice around 2003-2004, this time I listened to the Hoopla audio version narrated by Karen White. She easily and convincingly switches between men and women and French, Czech, German, British, and American accents! The story is set in the Czech Republic at a goth fair, which makes sense that the characters would be from many European neighbors. When I read this book, I forget that fact. Both American women sound different. Joy’s part sounds like Karen White’s regular voice, while Roxy is a peppier, squeakier person (which works because she’s described as small, like a woodland elf). White beautifully brings the story to life.
Above all else, this is a romance/sex novel. Some readers have been disappointed the focus isn’t all on vampires. But it’s a different sexy novel from others I’ve read. While intimate, characters discuss what pleasures them and what does not, a sign of a healthy attitude toward sex. The euphemisms are all PG — the most “offensive” words are nipple and penis — which is nice because you get lusty sex without feeling like you’re entering the world of hardcore porn.
MacAlister’s sex writing doesn’t take itself too seriously. Joy describes her desire to have sex with another character:
“Good,” I gulped, suddenly one big mess of tingling body parts that wanted an immediate introduction to all of his body parts. I tried to slam down a mental barrier between his mind and mine, but it did no good. The cheerleaders in my groin were setting up fundraising car washes to finance a field trip to his groin.
I don’t think the silliness ruins the actual sex scenes, either:
“Are you going to narrate this whole thing?” I asked, peering down over my belly at him. “Must we have the annotated version of oral sex?”
He grinned as he placed a kiss very carefully on the exact center of me. “I thought it might be more reassuring for you if you knew how much I was enjoying it, too.”
“Oh. OK. That’s fine. I was just checking in case there was going to be a quiz later.”
I did have two issues: there is a scene near the end during which no condom is used and one in which a condom has a “blow out,” but neither character seems concerned. Also, Roxy is a 24-year-old virgin who incessantly teases Joy about her sex life in a way that makes it sound like she has a busy one of her own. Why keep her virginal yet obsessed with Joy’s sexual activity? I support people waiting to have sex as long as they want, but the author’s choice didn’t seem to fit with the story. Overall, Roxy’s virginity and attitude combo don’t detract from the plot, though.
In sexy romance novels, I’m always looking for how women are treated. Joy, taller and thicker than pixie-like Roxy, always mentally criticizes Roxy for how much she eats. This is not good. Three male characters fight over Joy’s affections, which can lead to phrases like, “She’s mine.” Joy points out when guys are having a “pissing contest” over her, and she doesn’t enjoy it.
There’s also the icky Dominic constantly trying to kiss Joy’s hand and calling her pet names. This is also not good. But, the author carefully has Joy comment on all of these moments; she tells Dominic to let her go and stop calling her his angel. I felt good about these more progressive moments in which a woman verbally (and sometimes physically!) defends herself.
I really enjoyed this book when it came out and even more now as an audio book due to Karen White. Thanks to Goodreads, I learned that this book kicked off a series called (appropriately) The Dark Ones. I’ve got all eleven books on my to-read shelf. In fact, book 2 is also on my #20BooksofSummer list! It looks like one character from A Girl’s Guide to Vampires book is the lead in the next book.
NOTE: My second book in the #20BooksofSummer, Bird Box by Josh Malerman, was read for my June book club meeting. Grab the Lapels is a space reserved for reviews of books written by women, though, so my review of Bird Box is on Goodreads. It is a scary, compelling horror story that everyone recommended. I wish I hadn’t waited to talk my book club into picking it!