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Dark Paradise Review

New Adult is a subgenre of romance similar to Young Adult but with characters in their early twenties who have left their parents’ sphere of influence. This allows the author greater freedom of expression with the characters’ sex lives and personal lives because these characters aren’t minors anymore. They are at that exquisitely exciting point in their lives when they are suddenly free and on their own, whether in college or on the job, with sole responsibility for their own decisions. And yet the characters in New Adult romance still experience their lives with the vivid intensity of teenagers for whom everything is happening for the first time. To Young Adult and New Adult characters, no one has ever before felt things as passionately as they do. New Adult is an addictive new subgenre of romance and Dark Paradise is an especially strong example of it.

Twenty year-old Mala LaCroix is a beautiful black Creole girl growing up in a small Louisiana town in which her foremothers were feared as witches and rightly so. When they were freed from slavery and allowed to choose a family surname, Mala’s ancestors became “LaCroix,” naming themselves after one of the powerful Vodou loa (saints) of death. Mala’s mother Jasmine, who inflicted the given name “Malaise” upon Mala, is an alcoholic embittered from years of struggling alone and unguided, trying to cope with her own harrowing ability to communicate with the dead. Jasmine is harsh and neglectful with Mala, and she is also notorious for being the town prostitute.

Desperate to escape to a better life, Mala dreams of becoming a detective. She channels her energy into learning about police work and hangs around with the local deputies Bessie, a strong black woman, and George, a cute white boy on whom Mala has a harmless crush. In the book’s first scene, Mala is shocked but fascinated to find a dead body in the bayou near her home. It is Lainey, a white girl a few years older than Mala, who is from a well-to-do family in town. Mala calls the sheriff’s department. But little does she know that this will throw her together with Lainey’s handsome brother Landry to solve the mystery of the dead girl’s death. The attraction between Mala and Landry is intense and immediate, especially since Landry has been secretly obsessed with her for years.

Meanwhile, Mala starts to come into her own supernatural powers after years of disbelieving her mother’s stories about their foremothers’ abilities. If that wasn’t enough to worry about, the dead girl Lainey is so powerful a ghost that she shows herself to Mala and even to Landry, as if demanding their help. Obsessed with getting revenge on her killer, the ghost wrestles to possess and ride Mala’s body much as a loa would do to a true believer. Mala doesn’t know how to protect herself. She also doesn’t know if she should trust Landry who might be only exploiting her powers and pushing her to take dangerous risks so he can communicate with his sister. Then the town begins to turn against Mala and Jasmine, starting with a jealous girl who wishes Landry would pay attention to her. And Mala finds herself in a love triangle between boy-next-door George and bad boy Landry. Is this book strongly plotted or what?

Dark Paradise provides a good resolution of the book-specific mystery. It also opens up a tantalizing glimpse of an overall story arc that could power a terrific series as Mala decides at the end of this book that she must journey to New Orleans to study witchcraft with her menacing great-aunt. I can’t wait to see what happens with this.

I had two small problems with the book. First, during the scene in which Mala’s house is attacked, she realizes, “Magic is like breath to a LaCroix,” and breaks down a door by touching her palm to it. But I never felt I knew the extent of her powers. If she could break down a door, why couldn’t she do other things to defend herself in that scene? These questions will probably be cleared up in the sequels. Second, I was shocked to discover the identity of Lainey’s killer – mostly because I couldn’t imagine how and why Lainey would involve herself with this person. I could have used some explanation here.

But these are minor things. Overall, this book was a treat, especially because it read like it was personally written for me. It works in so many of my interests as a reader. I love interracial romance, particularly this type in which contemporary youngsters such as Mala and Landry have moved beyond struggling with racism and prejudice and are instead freed to be fascinated by each other’s beauty and vastly different cultural backgrounds. I love a vivid setting like the Louisiana bayou country that the author sketches in so well. And I know about the Vodou loa – enough so to appreciate the research that the author put into this story, including the snippets of Creole French that are not textbook French at all. This makes for an unusually authentic, exotic, and vivid story. Pure escapism for me.

Those of you who prefer romances with older characters that are written in third-person may balk at some of the differences here. You might find it a bit avant-garde that this story is told in alternating first-person narratives and present tense. (Believe me, it’s easy to follow and not distracting.) Likewise, you might find Mala and Landry to be overwrought compared to the characters you are used to. They are always in a state of turmoil, often yelling at each other and switching moods with whiplash quickness. But this is New Adult. It is supposed to be passionate and immediate, and I urge you to give Dark Paradise a chance. This is a book you don’t want to miss, and as with me it may linger in your mind for days and weeks after you finish the last page.

Type of Romance: Male-Female romance
Title: Dark Paradise
Author: Angie Sandro
Publisher: Forever Yours (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group)
Subgenre: New Adult, Romantic Suspense with a touch of Paranormal
Setting: small town Louisiana
Sex Scenes: Level 1 – none (see “Levels of Explicitness” in Related Links below)
Length: 96,000 words
Viewpoint: two alternating first-person viewpoints (Mala, Landry) in present-tense.
Note: A free review copy of this novel was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley.com in exchange for a honest review. I received no compensation for this review from author or publisher. Look on Amazon.com for Dark Paradise

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