Could have been tantalizing but wasn't, 1.5 stars
Cynthia Leitich Smith's Tantalize begins as Quincie Morris, placed into her uncle's care after her parents' death, is helping prepare the family's restaurant for its grand re-opening. Quincie helps runs the restaurant, which is undergoing a renovation to become Sanguini's, a vampire-themed dining experience. When the head chef is murdered, Quincie must decide whether to trust her best friend and crush, Kieran, a half-werewolf hybrid, to not be the culprit. Soon, new chef Henry Johnson sweeps in, complete with quirky comments, red contact lenses, and a wish to make the place as vampirific as possible. Henry also takes a decided interest in Quincie. As things get weirder and weirder, Quincie must decide whom to trust: the now-suspect Kieren or her uncle and the intriguing new chef?
Very rarely have I seen such widely-ranging reviews as I did for TANTALIZE, so I decided to pick up the book and decide for myself. Unfortunately, I fell among those who did not enjoy this book. Smith's writing was stilted and jumpy, and there were little to no transitions between scenes. In the first two-thirds of the book, the plot and setting were somewhat interesting, but the big plot twist that occurred in the final third was very abrupt and unpleasant. The incomplete character development didn't make me care for any of the characters, and the villain was obvious from his first introduction. Overt attempts at sensuality throughout felt forced. Finally, the climax and ending felt very rushed, and the villain and love interest both acted in unbelievable ways.
Underneath these problems, I could see glimmers of what could have been a great story. The restaurant setting, complete with described menus, décor, and subculture, provided a unique backdrop and way to tell the story. Smith's use of inserted want ads and menu displays in the book, along with the segmentation of the book into meal courses, was very clever. In the beginning of the story, Quincie and Kieren are likeable characters and their lifetime history as friends felt endearing and real. The modern-day setting of Austin and a world where vampires and weres exist as known human subspecies could have also provided for an interesting mythology.
Even with this potential, the book was simply an unsatisfying read with too quick a resolution and characters that become unlikeable and difficult to understand. In future books, I hope that Smith uses the creativity and cleverness she obviously has and puts it into a more consistent and enjoyable storyline.