Reviewed: August 23, 2011
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Series: Maggie's Grove, Book 1
Rating: 4 Stars
Length: 236 Pages (estimated)
Disclosure: This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.
Vampire Parker Hollis took full advantage of the free love and hippie lifestyle of the sixties...right up until he ignored a friend's warning and dallied with someone he would long regret ever meeting. Sure, he learned a valuable life lesson: hell hath no fury like a witch scorned, but he paid dearly for that lesson. Determined to be Parker's blood wife, the batshit crazy witch captures the vampire, then casts a dark spell that will change Parker...and his existence...forever.
That's how Parker Hollis becomes the world's first vegetarian vampire.
Decades later, the deathbed vision Parker's best friend Greg has moments before his passing prompts Parker to move to a town called Maggie's Grove. What he and Greg's ghost find astounds them, a town dedicated to the various supernatural races. It isn't long before Parker meets his neighbor, a dryad and for some inexplicable - and inexcusable - reason, the town outcast, Amara Schwedler. Her scent makes him yearn for a taste and her heart calls to his.
Amara's used to the petty hurts from being ostracized her whole life. She knows she's different. Heck, even other dryads avoid her - and that's the cruelest hurt of all. Still, she lives her life and she has a few select friends, even a job with a boss who understands her need to occasionally commune with her tree. Still, when Parker moves in next door, Amara is captivated by him...if a little perplexed by his diet, and his easy acceptance of her is a balm to her soul that puts hope in her heart.
When psycho witch sweeps into town smelling of putrification and decay, intent on destroying anything standing in the way between herself and Parker, Amara considers her nothing more than a weed in need of pruning. A pervasive weed with an evil streak. When she messes up Amara's garden, then targets innocent townspeople, Amara gets very, very angry. And when Amara is angry, she's very, very scary. The witch may be almost impossible to kill but Amara is something else altogether, and she and Parker have every intention of finally plucking that damned weed and ending her reign of terror. The trick is going to be making sure they don't get mulched in the process.
Without a doubt, Bell's new series debut definitely offers something new to vampire fiction. Its first vegetarian vampire botanist. Poor, cursed Parker, with his dietary restrictions, ghostly best friend, town-appointed Renfield...who keeps getting it on with his gay ghost - all over Parker's furniture, and, of course, the homicidal and seriously messed up witch who wants to be Parker's one and only chew toy. I'd feel really bad for him...if I wasn't having such a darned good time chuckling at his plight.
Actually, I just had a darned good time with the whole book. It had its serious, threatening moments, but the majority of the focus stayed towards the more comedic and sexier end of the spectrum. And the sexier end, in traditional Bell style, was quite yummy.
Amara was a pleasant surprise. I wasn't sure I was going to like her, worried she'd be a bit too naive for my tastes given her social seclusion. As it turns out, she totally kicked butt - even more so than Parker did, and had a dry but sharp-witted sense of humor I appreciated. She was a definite force of nature, and I enjoyed how she fit with Parker. Other characters, secondary and ancillary, were plentiful and delightfully quirky, as is also typical of Bell, and they provided a nice preview of future main characters for the series.
I wish the plot of the book had developed a little differently, with Amara and Parker's relationship evolving at a more gradual pace than it did. I thought the weedy witch of the west could've been introduced to the town a little farther along into the story, allowing for more time for all the characters and interpersonal relationships - especially but not exclusively the romantic one - to develop a little more thoroughly. And I would've liked Parker to have been a bit more successful in his endeavors. Seems he was mostly getting his butt kicked - or cursed - fairly often throughout the book.
Still, for a light and humorous paranormal romance dripping with sizzling sexuality, Blood of the Maple was a fun read and fairly classic example of the type and quality of funny, sexy fiction by Bell. I plan on continuing the series, as there was quite a lot of interesting and original mythos and world building here. I'm looking forward to seeing where Bell takes it all. I just hope we won't have to wait too long to get back to Maggie's Grove and its quirky coterie.
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