Bitten and Smitten
by Michelle Rowen
(Warner Forever, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-446-61700-8
Sarah Dearly isn't having a good night. Sure, she's had bad dates before, but they've never ended in a graveyard. Coming to while being buried alive just isn't her idea of a good time.

Always a smart girl, Sarah quickly surmises that the little toad she's been fixed up with isn't a toad at all; he's a vampire! Sarah barely has time to come to terms with being forced to be his "undead" queen before being attacked by vicious hunters. She barely escapes and seeks help from the nearest person she can find.

Thierry de Bennicoeur just so happens to be that lucky guy. As a six hundred year-old vamp, he's seen just about everything and doesn't want to see it again. His suicidal reverie is cut short by the wisecracking newly turned Sarah. He agrees to put off his death and show her the ropes, but only if she agrees to help him end his life after the hunting season.

Sarah suddenly becomes star player in a comedy of errors. She gets fired when her boss receives a paper-cut doing her evaluation. She picks up cutie Quinn in a bar, only to discover he's a cold-blooded vampire killer with a taste for revenge and she soon finds out her best friend is dating the first guy who tried to kill her. Suddenly it seems every man in Toronto is looking for her, and not in a good way! Between all the wannabe suitors and slayers, she has to find time to keep Thierry alive and figure out who's betraying the vamps to the hunters. It doesn't a leave a girl with much time to find a cure, that's for sure.

Rowen's first novel is sassy and charming. Her characters, both human and vampire are well developed and each have a strong voice. From Sarah's first meeting with the soon to be one-eyed hunter Peter to the memorable family wedding, each character leaves a strong impression and somehow helps to further the plot. The recurrence of these minor characters throughout the story helps to weave a strong storyline that clips along, adding small twists and turns just when you think everything is figured out.

The only problem I had with the story is the characterization of Thierry. The story is told in first person point of view and we only see him through Sarah's eyes. The problem isn't so much what the reader sees, but what isn't shown. He only makes brief appearances, imparting words of wisdom on Sarah or terrorizing hunters. Most of the back-story on Thierry comes from other vampires. I would have liked to see more scenes with the heroine's love interest, just so I could be a bit more sold on their romance.

If I found Thierry's characterization a bit weak, Rowen more than made up for it with Sarah. She understands her limitations (I hate it when heroines try to save the day alone), has a good heart and tries to see the best in her situation. She's strong enough to stand up to the master vampire and demand that he help a hunter who's been left for dead. She's smart enough to save her own skin numerous times and she's compassionate. She's also highly flawed for those of you shuddering at the idea of a Mary-Sue. Sarah's a bit too gullible and has a hard time dealing with the realities of Thierry's vampire life before the advent of blood delivery services. All in all, Sarah was a very realistic character, for a vampire.

For readers looking for a funny, suspenseful read, Bitten and Smitten won't disappoint.

--Amanda Waters

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