Sunrise in a Garden of Love & Evil by Barbara Monajem

I received an ARC of this book from Dorchester Publishing.  This is the first book being offered in their Publisher’s Pledge program, where they guarantee the read, or your money back.

The Premise: Ophelia Beliveau is a woman who owns a landscaping business in Bayou Gavotte, Louisiana, and she’s also a vampire. In this series, vampires are people with a rare genetic condition who need blood and sex to sustain them, but Ophelia is going without sex and hunts nutria not humans. She’s done with men because of bad experiences with people who got too crazy over her vampire allure, and when she calls the cops to scare her neighbor who trashed her garden, she’s not happy that Gideon O’Toole answers the call. Ophelia finds herself actually liking him, and tries to push him away for his own good. But Gideon isn’t easily swayed, and he actually wants to help her despite her railing at him to mind his business.  As more and more things happen, like a blackmailer targeting people in the town and dead bodies showing up, it’s a good thing that Gideon is on Ophelia’s side.

Browse the first 33 pages of this book here

My Thoughts: I am having a hard time explaining how I feel about this book in my head. Maybe the word is “surprising”. I look at the cover and it doesn’t really give a good indication of what’s inside. Hints of the Southern setting and the vampires are suggested by the magnolia flower and the drop of blood, but it but I don’t think it conveys the quirkiness of the story. There’s a small town humor that does remind me of Sookie Stackhouse, so I understand the comparison. There’s nosy neighbors, people freely giving their opinion about other people’s sex lives, gossips, and peeping toms. But then there’s the bizarre as well: the fetish clubs and a local rock star and tourists that come to Bayou Gavotte to experience “vampires”.  Since vampires need blood and sex, they often run the fetish clubs to help them feed, and an Underground led by head club owner Lep makes sure that people keep things legal, while the cops take care of the rest of the town. It seems to be a matter of opinion whether vampires really exist – some people think it’s just a myth, others are certain.

The idea of this town teeters on the edge of being over-the-top, but the main characters anchor it down, especially Gideon, who is a refreshingly levelheaded hero, even when Ophelia gives him every reason to lose it. Gideon is one of those people who doesn’t believe in vampires, despite his reactions to Ophelia because of her vampire allure. Ophelia is a very interesting character. Quite vulnerable and yet combative at the same time. She is not nice to Gideon when they first meet and I had a hard time understanding why she was so rude until more of her past is revealed and her reasons for staying away from men made more sense. Ophelia is also scared because Gideon doesn’t know what she is, and she’s sure he will be disgusted if he doesn’t go crazy over her. Luckily for her, Gideon has the patience of Job when it comes to Ophelia and he keeps trying to help even when she continues to distrust him.

Usually if a book puts a lot of emphasis on the physical and on sex, the romance doesn’t work very well for me. This book has some explicit scenes and sometimes I felt like everyone was a little too preoccupied with sex, but the personal connection was there for me as well.  Ophelia and Gideon go through murders and investigations, arguing with each other the whole time, and slowly getting to know each other before anything happens.  They both come into the relationship wanting to do a better job than their parents did, and we learn what their baggage is as the book progresses. They are also both subject to the same forthright interference from everyone else: Ophelia really should just have sex with Gideon, Gideon dates a lot of bimbos, Gideon is good in bed, Gideon better treat Ophelia right. I had to take it as part of the small town humor.

I thought that there was a cozy mystery feel to this book.  Not that Gideon is an amateur sleuth (he conducts his investigations professionally,) but because of the small town combined with the series of crimes – vandalism and blackmail that escalate into murder. The mystery was a strong part of the book and the killer keeps Gideon and Ophelia on their toes with one thing after another so I didn’t really guess who it was or what they were up to for a while. There’s a lot going on, but it felt organic and unforced.

There’s a large cast of side colorful characters who that also added to the story such as Gideon’s sister Art, who is being blackmailed but is too embarrassed to tell her brother, Ophelia’s theatrical sister Violet who owns a club, Zelda, Ophelia’s niece, who acts a lot older than her age, Constantine, the scary rock star who people think killed his wife, and Ophelia’s odd neighbors.  There were a few “WHAT did they just say/do?!” moments and I just floated along. I think I was charmed by the town and it’s oddball characters and when they did zany things I chalked it up to “I guess that’s Bayou Gavotte”.

One big niggle: Despite waiting before the relationship becomes physical, the hero and heroine really lose their heads when they do, and they managed to hit a couple of my pet peeves. I won’t spoil it for people by saying what bugged me, but let’s just say I wish the characters acted less impetuously there.

Also: I googled for other reviews and it’s interesting how many people got the title of the book wrong, probably because of another book’s title. It’s Sunrise in a Garden of Love & Evil, not Sunrise in THE Garden of Love & Evil. 🙂 I was calling it that too until I realized my mistake!

Overall: A well-written paranormal romance with a cozy mystery feel. I liked this better than I thought I would and would recommend it if you like these two genres, with the caveat that you need to keep an open mind about the town. I found a small town with vampire fetish clubs a bit bizarre, and sometimes I thought people acted inappropriately but the strong story telling and relationship negated those problems for me.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews/links:
Patricia’s Vampire Notes
Guest Blog by Barbara Monajem at Patricia’s Vampire Notes
(I didn’t see any more in my social circle. Please let me know if you reviewed this and I will link you!)

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