TANTALIZE by Cynthia Leitich Smith
Reviewed by Liviania Smith winner of our March Contest.

Quincie Morris lives with her uncle Davidson since her parents died. Shortly after the novel opens, something brutally kills Vaggio, the head cook of the family restaurant. Quincie already felt the pressure of renovating the restaurant to keep it open, and now it is even more important the new look becomes a success. Unfortunately, Vaggio's replacement could not be less vampiric. But Quincie needs to turn Henry Johnson into a vampire lord for the success of Sanguini's: A Very Rare Restaurant.

I enjoyed TANTALIZE from beginning to end. Kieran, Quincie's childhood friend, crush, and a half-werewolf, possesses a subtle sexiness. He responsibly pulls away from Quincie because he knows he must join a Pack. However, this puts more pressure on the stressed teen and causes her to become close to Henry quickly. Henry may seem like a nice guy on the surface, but he encourages Quincie to drink and she quickly becomes dependent of the red wine he offers her. Neither her uncle nor his girlfriend stop her - strangely, they encourage her alcohol dependency. TANTALIZE may be an urban fantasy, but it addresses many of the same problems real teens face: love, lust, family, work, drinking, how to maintain an equilibrium when everything seems absolutely crazy.

Like the best urban fantasies, the setting becomes another character. Smith puts her familiarity with Austin (she lives in the city) to good use. Austin is a city that both exemplifies Texas and contradicts the rest of the state. It's a city brimming with personality, and she includes some of its most unique features. The over-the-top political activism, the pride of having the largest urban bat colony, and the awesomeness that is South Congress is all real. I can see Sanguini's fitting perfectly with the unique and wild shops that populate one of downtown's central streets. For Halloween, Austinites could buy their costumes at Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds and then pop in for a taste of the 'Predator' menu.

These details and others bring the setting to life, making it familiar even with the presence of vampires and shifters. Shortly after I finished the novel, a neighbor stopped by to take my roommate on a quick jog to the capital. Eleven at night, and instead of muggers I was afraid of them running into something decidedly more boogeyman-ish. While I was immersed in the world of TANTALIZE, Smith convinced me that these creatures really did inhabit the same Austin I did.

Read TANTALIZE and be seduced by Quincie's world. Then come to Texas and see it for real.