Giacomo Casanova, known to all of his friends as simply Jack, is the son of the legendary lover of the same name, but he's really nothing like his father. Although he's an outgoing charmer, he prefers relationships to casual flings, but the only real relationships he's had ended in heartbreak. Two women turned hysterical and rejected him when he revealed that he was really a vampire, so he had to erase their memories of him and never see them again. He suspects that perhaps his first true love would have accepted his nature, but she died before he had a chance to tell her about it and find out. So Jack generally steers clear of women until the night he throws a wild bachelor party for one of his friends. When things get a little out of hand, the hotel calls the cops, and when they show up, one of them is a beautiful woman. Jack is instantly smitten and hates that he'll have to erase her memories of him, but when he tries, it doesn't work, leading him to keep seeing her.
After a car accident that caused a brain injury, Lara Boucher left behind a life of beauty pageants to become a big city cop. When she meets Jack, she's drawn to him but immediately senses that he's hiding something. Then she discovers that no one at the hotel where he held the party can remember him. After he later rescues her from a near fatal shooting, he also takes the memories of those involved except for herself. Lara isn't sure exactly what he is, but she knows he's more than a mere human. When a string of young women go missing and everyone who knew them exhibit the same strange memory loss as those from whom Jack took memories, she begins to wonder if he's somehow involved. He assures her he isn't and together they set out to find those responsible. As she spends more time with Jack investigating the case, Lara begins to fall for him, but she knows that he's still keeping something from her. When she learns the truth about him being a vampire will she be able to accept him or will she be like all the rest? And even if she does, can Jack rescue her from the bad vampires before she gets herself killed in an undercover sting?
I've been a big fan of Kerrelyn Sparks' Love at Stake series, since I read the first book five and a half years ago. That's why I was utterly dismayed to discover that it's been over four and a half years since I last read one. I guess when someone has as many books on their TBR pile as I do and reads as slowly as I do, it's bound to happen. Something winds up on the back burner whether intentionally or not, but it's still sad, especially when they're books that I love as much as these. All of the books up to this point have been keepers for me, and although I was definitely very happy to get back to this world, Secret Life of a Vampire wasn't quite up to the high standard set for me with the first five novels. That's not to say it isn't good, because it is. Or that I didn't like the characters, because I did. I simply saw a few weaknesses that were just enough to knock it down a star. I felt like the beginning (or really the first 2/3 or so of the book) wasn't quite all the way there for me, but still, the last hundred pages or so made up for some of that. So when it came time to decide on a rating, I did waffle a little. Ultimately, I decided to go with four stars, but know that it's a very strong four star rating.
Giacomo aka Jack has been a part of the series since book #3, Be Still My Vampire Heart. I always got the impression of him as the smooth-talking Italian Casanova, and he actually is a Casanova, being the illegitimate son of the legendary lover. He is very flirtatious and seems to know how to get a woman's attention, but I liked that deep down he's really nothing like his father. If anything, he's a little uncertain of himself at times, and he's not particularly into sleeping around. He's obviously a man who prefers relationships to casual love affairs, and when he finds a woman to shower his attention on, he loves with his whole heart. From the moment he first sees Lara, Jack is very attracted to her and jumps in with both feet, trying to seduce her. He's the first to declare his love, and while it was perhaps a little early in their relationship for that, I did like his style and him teleporting her to Venice to romance her was very sweet. I also love his protective nature and how he drives himself to find the bad guy to keep Lara safe. Where I saw a little bit of deficiency in his characterization is that it's not revealed until pretty late in the story that Jack was turned into a vampire against his will, and it's not until the very end that the circumstances of that are explained. He also lost his first love and had two other women he loved reject him when they found out he was a vampire. Because of these things, Jack could have been a tortured hero like I felt some of the other heroes have been (at least to some extent), but instead his backstory seemed to be glossed over. It just didn't play a big part in driving his character. Overall, Jack was a really sweet hero who I liked a lot, but I just didn't quite fall head-over-heels for him like I did with some of the earlier heroes.
Lara is a former Southern beauty queen turned New York City cop, which was an interesting dynamic that I would have loved to see explored a little more deeply. Driven by her mother to compete in pageants from the time she was a little girl, it wasn't until she was older that she made the choice to get out of that life because it just wasn't for her. But around that same time, she was in a car accident that seriously injured her, causing some brain damage from which it took a while for her recover. During that time, she determined that if she could make a full recovery, she was going to do something meaningful with her life. So she and her hospital roommate, who'd been shot in a robbery, banded together as best friends, moved to New York, and became police officers. Lara meets Jack when she and her partner (a guy, not the woman who's her friend) respond to a report of loud music and partying in a hotel room, where Jack is throwing a bachelor party for Ian (All I Want for Christmas Is a Vampire). Jack tries to use mind-control on her and wipe her memory, but it doesn't work. She knows there's something off about the guy, but at the same time, she's attracted to and intrigued by him. When a girl on a nearby college campus goes missing and her friends appear to have had their memories wiped, she wonders if Jack had anything to do with it, while hoping he didn't. After he admits that there are others out there like him, they start working together to find the bad guy before more women are kidnapped.
I had a similar problem with Lara as I did with Jack in that I didn't feel like her backstory played enough of a role in her present motivations, but even more so than that, I was a little bothered by the fact that she and her roommate spend quite a bit of time speculating on exactly what Jack is since he refuses to tell her for a while. During that time, they come up with all manner of things such alien, bionic man, android, mutant superhero, but never once does vampire cross their minds even though all of his characteristics point to it, which made them seem a little dense. Then when Jack finally confesses that he's a vampire, her first reaction is "that's impossible, they don't exist," and when faced with accepting it, she can't at first because he's suddenly now a monster. Her reactions just seemed inconsistent to me. Luckily she isn't too stubborn in her mindset and gradually turns around, so that in the end, I still liked her.
Just like with most of the other books in the series so far, there were a number of notable secondary characters, some of whom already had their own books or get their own books in the future. Connor (Vampire Mine) and Robby (The Vampire and the Virgin) are the two main Highlanders taking care of business at MacKay Security and Investigations where Jack works, too. As always, Phineas (Wanted: Undead or Alive) cracks me up. Phil, the wolf shifter who becomes the hero of the next book, Forbidden Nights with a Vampire, assists Jack with his investigation into the disappearance of the girls, while seeming to be hiding a few secrets of his own. Carlos (Eat, Prey, Love), the sexy panther shifter puts in an appearance acting as a guard at Roman's townhouse, where Jack is staying. Shanna (How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire) gives Lara a little advice and encouragement, and I loved seeing her and Roman's children, Constantine and baby Sofia. Roman as well as Angus and Emma (Be Still My Vampire Heart) are seen very briefly at Sofia's birth. We get to see Ian (All I Want for Christmas Is a Vampire) at his wedding. Apollo, the main villain of the story who is kidnapping the girls, not surprisingly has connections to the evil Casimir, leader of the Malcontents and mortal enemy of all the good vampires. Then there's Lara's best friend, LaToya, who helps keep her grounded, and there's one of the missing girls, Sarah. I thought both of these ladies showed some promise as possible future main characters. It looks like Roman may have a place for Sarah in his organization, but unfortunately neither of the women become heroines of their own stories, which is slightly disappointing.
Overall, Secret Life of a Vampire was an enjoyable story and if the characterizations had been built up just a little more, I probably would have liked it even better. Another thing that could have been improved a bit is the humor aspect. This series tends to be a little more lighthearted, and several of the previous books had me in stitches at some points. This one has a couple of humorous moments that amused me, but it wasn't quite as funny for me as some of the others were. It simply didn't reach that perfect ratio of comedy and deeper emotions that I'd previously found in the other novels. The final thing that bothered me a bit is that the level of trust in Jack and Lara's relationship wasn't quite up to par for me. Jack hides his true identity from Lara for an almost frustratingly long time and his excuses didn't quite ring true to me. There are other mortal women who've already mated vampire men, and while I could sympathize with his past loves rejecting him, that part of his past wasn't brought out in stark enough relief for me to feel his pain. Then when he finally does confess, Lara instantly doesn't trust Jack for no other reason than because he's a vampire. She was OK with the possibility of him being any of those other things she speculated about, but not with him being a vampire, which seemed a little overblown. But eventually they get past all that and do come to trust each other, so it wasn't all bad. Otherwise, Jack is a lovable and sexy hero, and while Lara had a few weaknesses, she became more likable as the story progressed, so Secret Life of a Vampire ended up being a good book anyway. I'm very much looking forward to continuing the series, and hopefully this time it won't take me years to get around to reading the next one.
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