When I read the description for this book, I got pretty damn excited. A young woman, striking out on her own, establishing her independence and finding love in an apartment building full of vampires, ghosts, witches, and shapeshifters? Heck, yes! All of it sounded amazing. After all, how can you go wrong with so many potential sources of conflict and intrigue?
As it turns out, you can go wrong pretty damn fast.
For starters, the paranormal characters in this book are barely paranormal at all. In fact, this might as well be your standard romance novel. The “magical” aspects of it are largely there for window dressing, and of course to give the two main characters an excuse to have unprotected sex. (Because shapeshifter/were = immune to STDs, duh!) Oh, it also provides a convenient excuse for why the male protagonist (Jason) will always love the female one, (Merry) without her having to worry about his eye wandering, or him getting down and dirty with any of the attractive young women surrounding him on a regular basis. Sigh.
The “ghosts” turn out to be just one–and he’s a cranky, sexist bastard whom I hated instantly. He gets his own chapters separate from the two protagonists, and I skipped every damn one of them. Not only did I despise the character, but his chapters were full of blatant exposition that were written with all of the action/conflict literally being overheard or observed secondhand. Which is a shame, because I would’ve loved it if I’d had the opportunity to experience that drama with the characters, instead of just getting their secondhand reports about it.
The one and only vampire in the book also adds very little in the way of drama. He’s there mostly to add a slight amount of panic to Merry’s life, though not in the way you’d expect. The revelation that he’s a vampire (and that supernatural creatures exists) goes over with about as much tension as a grocery list. The author also chooses to introduce him into the story via an attempted rape on Merry, which is a huge fucking no-no in my book. Later on, he gets shoehorned into the book again with some made-up foolishness involving Jason’s aunt, but the entire business adds nothing significant to the plot, and we neither see him nor hear from him again until the very end of the book. I guess he just continues living quietly in the basement, doing and experiencing nothing until Merry needs him for some Feelings later on?
Finally, we have the shifters, of which there are three. (Well, that the book focuses on anyway.) One is a raven, the other is a dog (I think?) and the last is our male protagonist, who is a falcon. This would be pretty cool, except for the fact we don’t find out Jason is a werefalcon until literally halfway through the book. Not even a hint. And again, what should be a dramatic reveal happens with very little tension. He just suddenly starts being all falcon-y in the beginning of one chapter, apropos of nothing, and then begins an inner monologue which instructs us in all the rules of Being a Supernatural Falcon.
Worse yet, him being a falcon gives him an excuse (because falcons are monogamous) to be incredibly possessive and creepy towards Merry. The author builds a magical “ritual” around his monogamy which needs to be undergone, and a failure to do so will result either in him losing his mind or dying. (Or both.) This is supposed to add tension, but all it really does it make it sound like Merry’s lot in life is to be essentially his sex slave. He literally needs to keep her with him at all times to satisfy his “urges”, and if she ever leaves him or falls out of love with him, the threat of his death/insanity will be hanging over her head. Does this sound like an abusive relationship to anyone else?
And now we get to the part of the book which disappointed me the most: None of the characters have anything else in their lives beyond was is happening with other characters that they’re attached to. Not even minor characters. For example: In Merry’s case, she’s a young nurse who has just left home for the first time. She leaves behind her (widowed) father and a brother with ADD. To me, that indicates she would have a fair amount of depth. Things she loves, things that would stress her out, and things that are important to her. Right?
Nope! These are all just more window dressing. She never has a bad day at work, never misses her (murdered) mother, never worries about how her brother’s doing. Every thought and every action revolves around Jason. She has no existence outside of him. Nor does he have one outside of her; though at least in his case, he has a relationship with his family and he does talk about his career occasionally.
There were so many conversations between the different characters that felt so hauntingly empty that it genuinely creeped me out. It was like walking through an abandoned mansion in the dead of night. I found myself desperately searching for something to connect to with, but I was denied every single time. The result was that I didn’t give a shit about any of the characters, and by the time they get their “happy ever after”, I found it about as moving as pulling gum off my shoe.
Oh, and did I mention the weird microaggressions mixed into this book? Yes, there are many. Most of them are racially motivated, (the black security guard named “Bubba” was particularly heave-worthy) but it was a borderline homophobic one which especially stuck in my craw. One of the few times we get to see the hospital Merry works at, she describes one of her co-workers as “gay, but you’d never know it to look at her.” What does that even mean? Are lesbians supposed to do their hair a certain way? Wear rainbow-colored shirts all the time? Have a secret tattoo behind their left ear? What!?
As the final cherry on top, there’s a literal subplot about Merry being “particularly cranky” because she’s PMSing. The male protagonist starts it with an offhand comment during an argument, and she picks up the torch and carries it through two more chapters. For the love of every god there ever was or will be, stop perpetuating that myth.
My face met my palm again when Merry picks up a Cosmo magazine as a guide for her first sexual encounter with Jason, and then proceeds to “write” out the entire article in her head in the form of an inner monologue as they’re having sex. She starts this monologue with the excited thought that the articles are factchecked with real men, so you get an accurate idea of what they really want! The entire scene honestly reads like an ad for Cosmo. It was bizarre. (Not to mention, using Cosmo as a sexual guide? Oh, honey, no.)
There are a ton of other small things which bothered me, but this review is already getting pretty lengthy, so I’ll let them be.
So yeah, that’s the confusing, empty trainwreck that was Strange Neighbors. I was really looking forward to a fun, snarky paranormal adventure but instead I got…well, I’m not sure. There were a lot of moments (and characters!) that SHOULD have been cool, but weren’t. Better luck next time, I guess.