Lately I’ve been so thrilled with the new Fantasy/Romance hybrids being published by Luna and Tor. Even when the books are less than complete hits, there’s enough that’s fresh and original in each to make them almost all worth the reading. Revenge Gifts is no exception to the rule. It’s lively and funny and intriguing, and if there’s a little too much of the kitchen sink thrown in by book’s end, I was still glad I’d gone along for the ride.
Tara Cole is the first-person narrator of this wildly imaginative tale. She runs a business selling gifts to those who want revenge on someone. Pillows stuffed with cat or dog hair for the allergic, chocolates for those watching their weight, and boxer shorts that will set off metal detectors are just a few of the surprises she provides for the Lorena Bobbitt in us all. Her online business is going gang-busters but lately Tara has begun to notice a trend. It seems like karma has caught up with her. Things are going wrong. Someone has put a curse on her and each new scary omen is followed by potentially catastrophic happenings. And to top it all off, her customers are starting to find ways to use her wares for good instead of ill. What’s a girl to do?
This next paragraph is where I’d normally talk about the hero in a romance. And since this is sold as a romance – it says so on the spine – I’ll talk about Howard Payne. I don’t know that I’d call him the hero, though. Tara is definitely heroine material but Howard is really just along for the ride. He shows up on Tara’s doorstep with the ostensible purpose of going into business with her. Howard wants to invest in Revenge Gifts and he likes what he sees in Tara. That’s about the sum total of what we ever get to know about Howard. He’s a likable and sexy businessman, but that’s about it.
What follows their initial meeting is a kaleidoscope of a story. Murder and magic, voodoo and vengence, it’s all here. Ms. Cruciger writes with real verve (don’t you just love that word?) and Tara’s first person narration is often whip-smart and funny and makes her an appealing protagonist despite her hilariously black outlook on life and love. But smart and funny can only get you so far. Somewhere in there should be a plot of some kind. This one is vague and meandering and by story’s end makes less sense than was necessary.
As far as the romance aspect goes, there’s not much there. Tara does find Howard pretty darn sexy. Howard returns her regard. They sleep together. But while I enjoyed their chemistry, I didn’t feel the love. If this were one of the books I mentioned being published by Luna, the relationship would only merit a mention and probably wouldn’t factor into the grade. The difference is in the marketing. Luna is selling Fantasy with some added romance. Tor is selling Romance with a little something fantastic in them. There is a difference in the expectations these labels engender.
Do I recommend Revenge Gifts? Most definitely. In fact, I’m actually hoping for a sequel. If the author does intend to follow-up with the further adventures of Tara and Howard, that would go a long way in explaining the weaknesses evident in this novel. Though it wouldn’t factor into my review, it would make a lot more sense for an author who evidently has a lot of talent.