by Ry Herman
Angela likes Chloe. Chloe likes Angela. It should be simple enough – there’s just the small matter of Angela’s aversion to sunlight. And crosses. And mirrors . . .
In 1998, Angela was a smart, gothy astronomy student - until her then-girlfriend accidentally turned her into a vampire. A year later, she divides her time between her post-graduate degree (working on it in a dark, basement room, and only at night) and controlling her need for human blood.
Then she meets lonely but wryly humorous slush-pile reader Chloe, who’s battling demons of her own. Chloe’s anxiety and depression can make it hard for her to leave the house, while memories of her ex haunt her at night.
As sparks fly and romance blooms, Angela and Chloe struggle to hide their difficulties from each other – but sometimes the only way out is to let someone else in.
I received an eARC of Love Bites from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
TW: I will be discussing domestic abuse, suicide and depression in this review.
Carmilla is one of my favourite classics, so a paranormal f/f romance novel featuring a mortal and a vampire is a novel I was always going to request for review.
I have no idea how to talk about this novel. I didn’t end up loving it the way I hoped to, which is a real shame, but I don’t think that’s entirely the book’s fault. I think it’s a marketing issue.
Look, if I see an illustrated cover and a punny title, I’m expecting a fun rom-com – but with vampires. Love Bites, however, is actually much more serious than that. I don’t want to imply that romance is a genre that can’t talk seriously about issues because that’s just not true; personally I think the romance genre is one of the best genres out there for tackling subjects like consent and even on how to open yourself up to love again after leaving a bad relationship.
Love Bites felt like less of a romance to me, though, and more of a story of two women learning to love themselves so they could love each other. That’s not a bad thing at all, but I do think quite a lot of readers might pick this up expecting a much funnier book. Or maybe it’s just me!
A year ago Angela left a very bad relationship. Not only was her ex-girlfriend, Tess, both physically and emotionally abusive, but she also turned Angela into a vampire. Not fun. Chloe isn’t a vampire, but she is battling her depression two years after her divorce from a man who just wasn’t pleasant to be around. When the two of them run into each other in a bar, and realise they have a shared friend, sparks fly, but how is Angela supposed to tell the woman she’s falling in love with that she’s a vampire?
Angela’s vampirism is essentially a metaphor for her previous relationship. Tess literally sucked everything out of her until she was a husk of who she was and, though she isn’t with Tess anymore, she does have a constant reminder of that part of her life now that she’s a vampire herself. I saw another reviewer mention that this story could have been identical without the supernatural element and could have simply been about two women working through their personal demons and I think I’d agree with that, but it was fun to read a vampire novel where the vampires didn’t sparkle but didn’t sleep in coffins either.
That said, this did also mean that as more and more supernatural creatures popped up it all felt a little unnecessary? To me it all felt a little too easy, which is strange from a novel that doesn’t deal with easy topics.
For example I think Herman wrote Angela and Tess’s relationship really well. Angela grew up in a very Christian household, and at one point mentions being disowned by her family after she came out, so it’s easy to see how she falls into Tess’s trap and how easy it is for Tess to take advantage of her. Before she knows it she’s letting Tess decide what she wears, how she spends her time and even when she’s allowed to go to the toilet, all the while making Angela feel like it’s her fault when Tess loses her temper. You can’t help but root for Angela, and I loved seeing how conscious she was of making sure she doesn’t use her vampirism in the same way Tess uses hers.
Angela and Chloe are a very sweet pair, in contrast, but, considering this is a romance, I felt like they spent more of the novel apart than they did together. I don’t think this is a bad thing – as I mentioned before they both have their own demons to tackle – but it did mean that when they started telling themselves that they’d fallen in love I, as the reader, didn’t really feel like they’d had enough time to. Do I think the two of them really like each other? Yes. Love? Hm, I’m not so sure, but they do seem to be moving in the right direction.
I did love how determined Chloe was to never be scared of her partner again, though. We don’t learn an awful lot about her ex-husband, but we learn enough to know that he made her feel worthless and led to her losing most of her friends and even a suicide attempt. Whenever there were problems with Angela, Chloe wanted to talk about it, which is so refreshing in a genre that often relies on miscommunication.
There did seem to be an awful lot of suicide attempts in this book for just one book, though. Again I don’t think I can say that’s necessarily a bad thing because I think we can expect a person with suicidal thoughts or suicide ideation to think about or attempt suicide in several ways, but I do want to mention it because if you or anyone you know struggles with suicidal thoughts you might want to give this book a miss—especially if you’re not having a great mental health day.
We only get fleeting mentions of Chloe’s suicide attempt, but with Angela we see her try several ways to kill herself because, as a vampire, she’s practically indestructible. I don’t think Herman handled it in a disrespectful way, although as someone who’s never attempted suicide I’m probably not the best person to comment, but I did want to bring it up. As I mentioned before, that cute rom-com cover and title don’t really warn the readers about that particular section.
Basically, I have no idea what to say about Love Bites despite still managing to write plenty about it. I didn’t love it but I can’t say I disliked it either, which I think has made trying to review it even harder. If you like your romance novels with a more serious side then this one could be for you if you don’t mind a dash of the paranormal.