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Review: New novels from Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Gina Frangello and Elin Hilderbrand Add to ...

Certain Dark Things

By Silvia Moreno-Garcia

St. Martin’s Press, 336 pages, $36. 99

Sunburst Award-shortlisted Canadian author Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Signal to Noise) has written an urban fantasy novel about vampires – and it’s terrific. With dark and delicious elegance, Moreno-Garcia delivers a satisfyingly bloody vampire story with a tantalizing twist – Aztec mythology – and a romance that warms the heart even as it causes it to pound a little faster out of sheer terror.

Moreno-Garcia’s not-too-distant future world is focused on Mexico City, which has been declared a vampire-free zone. Atl – she’s beautiful; her name means “water” – is a young female vampire who is in the city illegally, running away from the same demons she is also forced to chase. Domingo is the homeless Mexican teenager she preys on one night but can’t bring herself to do away with. Of course, he becomes smitten; his guilelessness is adorable and lightens the at-times fearsome gloom of the world Moreno-Garcia has constructed. There’s also Ana, an inner-city cop who is tough and smart, and might prove to be the vampires’ undoing.

But are we really rooting for her? That’s one of the questions this author shrewdly puts forth. Not since my days of reading Anne Rice has a vampire story so wholly delivered such a head-spinning plot combined with true substance of character. These are vampires who are as real as only vampires can be (that is, completely unbelievable, but also everything we frail humans aspire to be: brilliant, sexy, invincible, limitless). There are also human sidekicks you desperately hope make it out alive, and characters you would very much like to see come to a terrible end. It works, all of it, in a story that’s decadent, riveting and worth the restless nights and a nightmare or two.

Every Kind of Wanting

By Gina Frangello

Counterpoint, 352 pages, $26

Gina Frangello (Slut Lullabies, A Life in Men) is an author who pushes boundaries. This novel is no exception. Every Kind of Wanting is a book about the family we choose versus the family we wish we could have, but it’s also about desire and love and our basest needs.

It follows Chad and Miguel, a couple who long for a child (well, Chad does; Miguel struggles with ambivalence and that’s what makes him so interesting); unhappily married Gretchen, Chad’s sister, who offers her eggs in exchange for what she hopes will be some meaning in her life; and happily married (but soon to be not-so) Emily and Nick. Emily is an old friend of Miguel’s who agrees to be the surrogate host to this “community baby” the characters are attempting to conjure into being. Enter Lina, the spanner in the works. She’s Miguel’s actor/stripper/former-drug-addict sister, and Nick begins an all-consuming affair with her at a very inconvenient time. As she struggles to make sense of her past, it starts to threaten everyone in the book – as past events in all the most compelling of novels do.

Unfortunately, all the characters don’t receive equal attention and they should, even when inhabiting supporting roles. Bebe, Lina’s lover, needs to be as boldly invented as her glittering other half, only on a smaller scale. Instead, she sometimes comes off as a character sketch of a feminist lesbian. And Troy, Gretchen’s husband, is ridiculously awful. He spends thousands of dollars on a Russian escort service, has a strange and senseless germ phobia, and sometimes kicks the dog! I mean, honestly.

But aside from these external character shortcomings, the story fascinates and never falters. Frangello takes on an enthralling range of issues, from sexuality to assimilation, and keeping secrets is her greatest talent. Every page brings a new revelation, making the bitter end even sweeter.

Winter Storms

By Elin Hilderbrand

Little, Brown, 256 pages, $34

With 18 novels under her belt, Elin Hilderbrand is on track to becoming the James Patterson of her genre. There’s a formula here, yes, but it’s not so obvious that it feels as if it popped out of a cookie-cutter. What it feels like to read a Hilderbrand novel is the same as what it feels like to binge-watch several episodes of your favourite soap-opera-style show – but without having to stare at a screen, and with silence or, better yet, music on in the background, a blanket on your lap and a cup of tea in your hand.

If you haven’t read a Hilderbrand novel, you should. It’s a soul-soothing experience indeed, one that’s especially necessary as the days grow shorter and the damp cold of a Canadian autumn seeps in. Winter Storms is the final instalment in the author’s Winter Street trilogy, which is not to say it can’t be enjoyed à la carte. I did, and had no problem catching up on what I had missed in the Quinn family’s affairs from the previous two novels.

Here’s the story: The holidays are approaching, and the Quinns are gathering on Nantucket to regroup after a tempestuous year full of health scares and severed alliances. There is hope in the air, but it’s tenuous: Positive news about Bart, who has been MIA in Afghanistan, is tempered by the uncertainty of what state he will be found in, or if he will be found at all. There’s also a great deal of romance, as Margaret finds true love, Ava dates around, and Isabelle and Kevin prepare to marry. A storm on the horizon threatens all of this, and as a formidable blizzard approaches the Eastern seaboard, the Quinns are forced to put aside the drama – they have trouble doing this, and that’s part of their charm – and make home the safest place possible.

Hilderbrand’s pacey prose and expert authorial hand forces nothing; there’s never a dull moment.

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