Freeks by Amanda Hocking
I think awkward flirting and adorable family bonds must be a sweet spot in books right now, but that’s GREAT because I’ve found lots of those books that have recently that focus on tight family relationships. For me, paranormal romance and fantasy romance works the best when there are other strong relationships in the story that balance out the romance, making the entire story feel more authentic. Enter Freeks, which is something of the love child between The Night Circus (a book I was surprisingly ‘meh’ about) and Grey/Dark Shadows/Beautiful Creatures (ah yes, I do really have a paranormal sweet spot that I need to be scratched every once and while, hmm?)
Enter Mara, a traveling carnie/circus worker in a freak show with people with actual paranormal powers. (A note: this book is set several decades in the past, which negates cell phones and the ease of newer communication, which would’ve riddled this story’s plot with holes, especially the opening when Blossom disappears. It’s amazing what ‘go call her on the cell’ can do to a story.) Mara has no powers (or at least she thinks she doesn’t) for most of this book. She is, of course, wrong. Her mom is a necromancer and communes with the dead, and her mom’s boyfriend and head of the circus, Gideon, is a psychic. When the beat-up trailers and wagons roll into Caudry for a high-paying gig, their powers start doing strange things, and everyone realizes they’ve stumbled into a magical mess that might require running from the town and ruining the circus.
Freeks wastes no time in introducing townie and adorable love interest, Gabe, who meets Mara when she’s walking through Caudry and admiring the old mansions. Gabe’s sister, Selena, is having a birthday part, and Mara is invited in off the street. Adorable flirting ensues, but the savvy paranormal reader (if you’re reading this blog, I assume you might count yourself among this number) knows there’s something off about Gabe. If you can guess it (which you might be able to), you know where this story is heading. That said, I loved a lot of the scenes between Mara and Gabe because the stress at the circus, and how Mara clearly cares more for her family than a boy she just met, which helps make their relationship feel real-yet-also-adorable.
When a monster attacks the carnival, a series of employees gets hurt. No one can figure out who sent the monster or what it’s after, and the town’s people are belligerent at worst and diffident and disinterested at best in the well-fare of the carnival workers. There are some obvious hints as to what the creature might be and who might be benefitting from it killing the carnival workers, and none of these things are subverted too heavily. There was one true surprise for me (Gabe really doesn’t know anything! He’s not actually a love lead villain!), but after ravenously reading this book, the ending fell a bit flat. It was weirdly anti-climactic and rushed after the detail that went into building the world and relationships of Freeks. Still, a ‘meh’ ending didn’t ruin a solid paranormal story.
Rating: 4 stars. I loved the characters, the family bonds, and the adorable flirting, but the ending let me down a bit. It was a bit too predictable and neat.