A Girl’s Guide to Vampires is Book 3 in the #20BooksofSummer challenge! @katiemacalister

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 know 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?

girls guide

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.

quinn.gif
Quinn Morgendorffer from Daria used to love guys fighting over her.

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.

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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.

20 books 2017
This is book #3 of my #20BooksofSummer challenge, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books.

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!

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28 thoughts on “A Girl’s Guide to Vampires is Book 3 in the #20BooksofSummer challenge! @katiemacalister

  1. The comment about the friend who is a virgin but sounds like she had an active sex life reminds me of a character from Girls With Slingshots, an online comic. The friend to the main character is found to be a virgin in the general sense, and likes it that way, though she regularly enjoys sexual activities with others over time. She eventually ends up in a physically open relationship with an asexual woman who fulfills her emotional needs while she still happily seeks out partners for physical needs.

    As long as the writer handles the subject well, and it isn’t a matter of the character simply talking big about their…endeavors(?), that comic showed me that there is no reason a virgin can’t have an active sex life, as long as they relax their definition of sex. Could that be the case here, or an I reading to much into sexy vampire fun?

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    1. That’s a really interesting comment! In the beginning of the book, Roxy says she’s “saving herself,” so I figured she was shaped by a purity promise if some kind. She’ll talk about how cute a guy is, but we never see her interact in a sexual way with any guy or woman in the story. Perhaps she knows herself very well sexually and feels confident about her body and what she wants, but she hasn’t had a sexual experience with someone else.

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    1. I’m not sure. In this book, the characters know about the vampires loves because the author of the vampire books they love are actually written by a vampire. Perhaps it’s romantic to think one person would love you for eternity–literally? Though sex and love aren’t the same, of course…. Not sure!

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  2. I like Anne’s question. I wonder if anyone knows the answer…

    I think one of the reasons I stay away from romance-y books is because I assume I won’t like the way the women are treated/handled. I think I’m still traumatized by the ones I read in Junior High. 🙂

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        1. I wouldn’t be surprised if Fabio was on the cover 😀

          He used to be on the cover of all those old romance novels before he became the “I can’t believe it’s not butter” guy. And can I just say that if I’m going to have a big ol’ sexual fantasy, it wouldn’t include someone who looks like Fabio?? Is it the hair? The accent?

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  3. Yeah, I’ve never really understood the sexy vampire thing myself – generally speaking I prefer men who don’t try to suck the life out of me! I don’t know where the vampire/sex thing began in folklore, but in terms of written English-langauge literature, I believe J Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla makes a good claim to be the first, and intriguingly for such an early work it’s full of overtones of lesbian lust…

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    1. That book sounds interesting, FF. I looked it up and saw it was published in 1872. I’m going to see if my library has it! A Girl’s Guide to Vampires seriously has almost no vampire action, which is the biggest reason several of the first reviews on Goodreads are one-star ratings. Mostly, the vampire books the main characters read are a vehicle to get them to the Czech Republic, which is where Joy meets a man–a human man–and we get into romance, mystery, and a close look at Joy’s and Roxy’s friendship. I’ve started the second book, but don’t like it as much so far because 1) the sound quality is not fantastic on the audio recording and the voice actress, though super famous, sounds like she has too many teeth to talk around, and 2) the narrator isn’t a very strong woman. Joy in A Girl’s Guide to Vampires sounds more like an Amazon. Her height and strength are mentioned frequently.

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    1. Ha! Oh, Bill 🙂 I think it’s important to review sex scenes if you’re going to read a book with sex simply because there are so many poor/unhealthy representations of sex in fiction. I mean, how in the world did we get Fifty Shades of Grey? I’ve read some of the sex scenes. They’re poorly written, and then the main guy goes on to stalk the main woman. Do American women desire to be desired so much that even stalking is preferred to the toxic masculinity we say day in and day out?? I hope not…. It’s important, in my opinion, to show that sex is healthy, and different relationships that the normative one man and one woman are important to show–as long as all of it is done with respect to everyone involved. Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. I need to read this. It sounds like SO MUCH FUN!!! The whole possessive ‘she’s mine’ thing seems to be pretty common in vampire romance, as is the infantilising of the heroine. It gets my hackles up too, but good that the author acknowledges it here and has the character make comment. It’s been ages since I read a vampire romance. I miss them! 🙂

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    1. As I mentioned to FictionFan, it’s LIGHT on vampires. The later books, from what I can tell, are more vampire focused. Really, this book is funny first, sexy second, and very Eastern European third. Vampires come after. I think you would like it 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Laila! Two of them on the list of 20 are audio books, which for me means that I can do more than one book at a time. Right now I’m reading Kindred and listening to the follow-up work to Girl’s Guide, which is called Sex And The Single Vampire.

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