Monday, July 13, 2015

Under a Vampire Moon (Argeneau #16) by Lynsay Sands

After getting out of a loveless marriage, in which she was controlled, lied to and emotionally abused, Caroline is trying to move on with a Caribbean vacation.  Unfortunately for Caroline, St. Lucia seems to be littered with honeymooners and with her traveling companion not feeling well, Caroline has plenty of time to spend on the beach wondering how she ended up over 40 and alone.

When Christian Notte gets a call from his mother Margarette, to inform him that  she has someone she would like him to meet, Christian doesn't hesitate to drop everything and head to St. Lucia.  Margarette seems to have a knack for helping immortals find their lifemate and Christian cannot wait to see if she has done the same for him.  

As all things that come with finding a lifemate, things quickly take a twist.  At 40, Caroline is very nervous and scared to be hurt.  She's highly aware of her age and when the youthful looking Christian catches her eye, she knows that she shouldn't be with him.  Now that Christian has found his lifemate, he must woo her and help her get over her fears but he has to get close to her first.

At this point, the Argeneau series is incredibly formulaic even for a paranormal romance novel. Since Caroline is human, she doesn't know anything about the immortal society and thus believes Christian to be almost 20 years younger than her.  Age is a huge hangup for Caroline.  She's obsessed with crows feet and cellulite on her thighs.  Her constant worry is that people will think that she is a cougar and judge her for being with Christian.  The soundtrack to her brain is all insecurity and I found it exhausting to be quite honest. I can understand her hesitancy but Sands took it too far.

In any PNR there has to be a situation which delays the HEA and serves as some sort of plot.  In the case of Under a Vampire Moon, Sands chooses to have Caroline believe that Christian is gay.  The idea is that Caroline will relax, secure in the knowledge that she is with a man who doesn't want her sexually.  Uh huh.  She's so lonely on vacation that she thinks it would be fun to play the role of beard for a hot young gay man.  Uh huh.  And why does Christian need a beard?  Well, because his family will reject and possibly disown him if they discover his sexuality.  Uh huh.  I know, take a deep breath.  

Up to this point in the series,  Sands has only had one gay couple mentioned in passing.  On several occasions, she has used either  mistaken sexuality or outright implied that a character is gay as the stumbling point and to illicit laughter.  I for one, don't find it funny that Sands thinks the very real fact that LGBT youth are rejected by their families and left homeless because of their sexuality should be used as fodder in this fashion.  

There are times when Caroline express confusion at homophobia.

"He's gay, but ...well, Italy is terribly into the whole machismo thing, and especially in our family, so he keeps it to himself. I'm the one who knows"

"Oh, that's a shame.  It must be hard for him," she said with sympathy, recalling many late-night talks with Brent on the subject.  He really had struggled with it and it didn't seem fair to her.  She didn't understand the anger and rage homosexuality caused in some people.  Some acted like they thought the individual woke up on day and said, Well, I think I'll piss off the universe today by switching my sexual preference.  She was no expert on the matter, but it seemed to her that thinking a person could choose what gender they were attracted to was thinking you could choose what you preferred to eat.  Some preferred chocolate over vanilla, and others preferred vanilla to chocolate, it wasn't a choice but a matter of taste and what appealed to their palette.  Why did they think sexual preference would be any different? (pg 37)
That really sounds great doesn't it?  It's a great sentiment but unfortunately, it is all a build up to the very homophobia that Caroline apparently doesn't understand.  It begins from the moment Gia informs her that she is to play a beard for Christian.  Yep, Caroline actually wonders what's wrong with her "gaydar". The one actual gay character never makes an appearance and yet is mentioned repeatedly along with his sexuality.  Brent apparently is just like another "girlfriend" for Caroline and she loved the years she spent playing his beard, even if it stopped her from meeting any heterosexual single men.

When Caroline tries to coax Christian out of his all black attire and suggests shorts with a white t-shirt, Christian in not enthusiastic, causing Caroline to suggest Christian is "pretty lame about fashion for a gay guy." Similarly, when Christian admits that he "doesn't do fast dancing", Caroline's reaction is to pronounce Christian "so lame for a gay." That last comment actually manages to marry disablism and homophobia.

For his part, when Christian learns that he is to play the role of a gay man he is not pleased.  He then questions if he to talk in a higher octave or start walking or behaving effeminately. When Zanipolo, Christian's cousin learns that Caroline believed him to be gay, it's actually an affront to him.  He questions if his walk is effeminate and if he looks gay.  He asserts his sexuality repeatedly and questions why he isn't viewed as masculine. He even cuts his long hair to apparently have a more masculine appearance.

How masculinity and sexuality became entwined in this fashion, reveals just how little Sands actually knows.  I was tempted to give Sands a break because this is an older book, until I discovered that Under a Vampire Moon was published in 2012.  Homosexuality for Sands, is something to be overcome, and a punch line in a joke.  At this point, I don't think there will ever be an inclusive book in the series and given the homophobia masquerading as comedy in this Under a Vampire Moon, perhaps it's a blessing in advance.

Speaking of inclusion, people of colour didn't fare much better.  Sands did casually mention that there were a few natives from time to time.  The only named character of colour is the driver Adam who refers to Caroline as "pretty lady" repeatedly.  He gets no characterisation whatsoever.  Leave it to Sands to set a book in St. Lucia of all places and still have difficulty including a well rounded character of colour.

I don't really expect much from these books beyond a few good laughs but once again Sands failed to deliver.  The comedy has always been a saving grace of this series but it seems to appear less and less.  Clearly, the storyline of the gay acting Christian is meant to be comedy but it was far too offensive to be considered funny by me.

It is nice to have a 40 year old protagonist but she is so insecure and filled with loathing because of her age, I found that I didn't like Caroline in the least. The sentiment is cemented after Caroline learns that she will be immortal and stops to whine that she will be immortal with a 40 year old body.  She barely has any concerns that she is in love with a man 500 years her senior or that he drinks blood but being 40 forever gives her pause. Cue yet another mention of sagging breasts. After Caroline learns that the nanites will make her young again, she is so completely happy and ceases any questions.  It makes her read as extremely shallow.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention how quickly Under a Vampire Moon ended.  The finale is just so abrupt, I wondered if I had missed something.  Caroline sees the immortals drinking their bagged blood and leaves the house in a panic.  All Christian has to do is have a few words with her and she is ready to change into an immortal and quickly considers selling her company.  There's trusting and then there's WTF.  No, seriously WTF?  It would be fair to say that Sands dialed in the ending.

As aforementioned, I don't go into the Argeneau series looking for anything but a laugh and some incredibly light fluff and therefore; it's an affront when that low bar is not only not met, but the story is offensive on top of it all.  People's lives shouldn't be a punchline, nor should their worst experiences be appropriated for the sake of furthering a heterosexual romance.  Sands has written some offensive things in this Argeneau series thus far and Under a Vampire Moon has superseded them all. Under a Vampire Moon is quite simply homophobic.