I picked up Almost to Die For because I was feeling like something that wouldn't take any work on my part. Which it didn't. And, you know, the author plays with some themes that haven't been Done To Death in the whole Twilight-Readalike-Pile-On, so that was nice.
So. On her sixteenth birthday, Anastasija Parker—she of the porcelain skin, the long, long hair and the different colored eyes—the daughter of a witch and a deadbeat dad, finds out that said deadbeat is actually the Big Boss King Vampire¹.
Which makes her, Ana, half-vampire. And also a princess. And also, since witches and vampires HATE each other, someone who suddenly doesn't belong anywhere, but who is still being pulled (really, really hard) in two different directions by some extremely powerful forces. Oh, and now she's got two guys in lurrrve with (Or at least interested in. Maybe.) her: A witch and an extremely protective vampire.
Who, of course, hate each other. (Okay, so that's a bit Twilight-y.)
Ana's voice is likable enough, a bit cranky and self-deprecating, which always goes over well with me, and she is aware enough of the Silliness of Using Capitalization to Signify Importance that whenever she does it, it feels a bit sarcastic. Which I also like. And the plot moves along at a fast clip, with lots of mini-showdowns that do actually lead to a Big Showdown, which is good.
However. The dialogue, quite often, is stilted, weirdly formal and unrealistic: Ana uses 'whom' in a random conversation by her locker, and her best friend, explaining the birthday present she's just given to Ana, says, "It took me several months. I had a heck of a time learning to twist the silver wire", which just sounds... unlike any sixteen-year-old I've ever heard. For that matter, I can't imagine anyone saying that aloud and sounding natural. Nikolai's description of a bowling alley is even worse:
"It's just that a couple of friends of mine like to go bowling at this really funky alley. I think you'd appreciate it. It's quirky, but a lot of fun. You get these goofy shoes, and the whole place smells of popcorn and alley grease."
Now, I can usually give vampires some dialogue leeway, since they're a little bit out of time, but he's a modern-day witch, so there's no excuse for that.
The witches' magic is... well, one of the spells was, "North, south, east, west, spiderweb shall bind him best—", which some people (me) might have a hard time getting through with a straight face, but fans of the Sweep series might enjoy that aspect of the book. Ana does poke fun of it a bit, which helps. As in the Sweep series, the clothing choices of the characters are detailed, with similar results:
Like the rest of us, he'd dressed the part of the young witch. In his case, he opted for the billowy peasant shirt with poet sleeves and tight leather pants. Wow, he looked good in those. The motorcycle boots were a nice, modern touch, especially with the ankle jewelry jangling like spurs near his heels.
Anyway. But a much bigger issue—for me, mind—than the dialogue or the cheesy magic or the clothes came towards the end, and it does amount to somewhat of a spoiler, so don't read this last part if you were a big fan of the Sweep books and would like to give this one a whirl. (Because I do think it's a strong readalike for that audience.)
My Big Issue was as follows: Late in the book, Ana's mother casts a really, really strong compulsion spell on Ana to keep her under control. And, after breaking the spell, and then after the Big Showdown, Ana doesn't seem all that upset about it. I mean, maybe it'll get dealt with in a later book, but it seemed like a BIG, BIG DEAL to me, and something that tipped Mom into the Bad Guy realm. (Yeah, she was just trying to protect her daughter and blah blah blah, but, HOO BOY, that's a HUGE line to cross, and ends/means and all of that.) But that's a pretty personal issue. As my issues so often are.
So, Sweep fans, give this one a try. Otherwise? Eh.
¹Although, with a name like Anastasija, I really don't know how she HADN'T guessed that she was the daughter of a vampire, but whatever.
Book source: Review copy from the publisher.