Oil and Water Book Review
Updated: Nov 24, 2020
Lara Ann Dominick's Oil and Water will be the first review featured on our blog, yay! Before we get started, I'll disclaim that I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review, and all opinions expressed herein are mine and mine alone (no mind possession occurred).
Without further ado, let's hop into the review!
Genre: Adult Paranormal Romance
Category: Emotional Read
Want to know more about how we categorize books? See our Glossary for details.
Rating: 5 / 5 stars
Let me set the record straight before we dive in: I liked this book. "Like" might be an understatement considering I gave myself two weeks to read the danged thing and blew through it in two days (did I mention it's 420 pages?).
I was pleasantly surprised by a number of things, but mainly I was pleased with how professionally edited it was. It's an indie book, but so well-edited it could sit on a shelf next to those big-boy traditionally published books. As a grammar nerd, this pleases me immensely and is the one pet peeve I have with indie books I've read in the past, so don't think I sing this praise lightly.
Now, onto the story bits!
Oil and Water follows the story of two women: Elsie, a human in her late twenties who is living with her parents while trying to pay back her student loans, and Opal, a ruthless vampire who uses seduction to feed when she wants and has no qualms about the humans she kills.
Though I am far from an Elsie, I immediately clicked with this character. From the first page, her mental tangents exude genuineness. She shamelessly admits she is a sucker for novels she describes as "trashy young adult fantasy romance," normally of the vampire persuasion, and goes on to detail the thrill of escaping the monotony of the real world by inserting herself into these epic romances:
I'd found it far too easy to get absorbed into the unrealistic romance; to lose myself in the somehow simultaneously overdone and watered down action; to picture myself living within the impossible realm of the story. And yet it was so hard to let go of the book, to put it on the shelf and force myself to return to reality. (Chp 1)
There's something about this unabashed truth that startled me out of the formula I expected of a vampire romance, but in a fantastic way. Almost immediately, Elsie was real to me. She's pretty and proud of what she considers her best features while also admitting she's no staggering beauty—a healthy medium between the soul-crushing body negativity often seen in romances and overdone confidence. It was . . . normal. She has a circle of friends she hangs with regularly and parents who care about her and occasionally smother her, as parents are wont to do. Her job isn't glamorous, but she finds joy in what she does: helping troubled kids in the school system.
The best part about having someone so normal, so relatable be the heroine rather than some drop-dead-gorgeous-but-doesn't-know-it loner is that imagining her story taking place, as Elsie likes to do with her romances, actually seems possible. Her meeting with the soon-to-be epic vampire love Cyrus, or Cy, unfolds under very normal circumstances: she's out with a friend, asks him for a cigarette, then starts flirting a little because, well, he's hot.
This is so refreshing. Don't get me wrong: I'm like Elsie in that I'm also a sucker for that awkward loner-girl stereotype, but part of me admits most women who saw someone matching Cy's description would be flirting too:
He had on a white button-down with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows and dark jeans that were slim cut, but not too tight. He was fit, but in an understated way, just enough that you could see toned and defined muscles under the lines of his shirt [. . .] His black hair was styled in that way that looked natural and carefree but probably took an hour to get just right [. . .] every part of his look was very casual, but altogether there was something about him that came across as just decadent. (Chp 5)
If I thought Cy's appearance sounded yummy, his personality absolutely captivated me. He's everything modern love interests should be: caring, supportive, respectful of Elsie and her boundaries, patient, kind, thoughtful, and—best of all—able to quickly pick up on emotional cues and read a situation without making Elsie spell out her insecurities and needs for him (even though she often does, because she's open like that).
There are two hallmarks to a romance I cannot put down: 1) I have to relate to the main character, even if our personalities differ. 2) I have to be as in love with the love interest as the character is.
Check and check! Cy is officially on my Book Boyfriend list. Sorry, Elsie, he's stolen in my mind.
Moving on to our other leading gal Opal . . . well, she's ruthless. She has zero memories of her human life, rendering her the most apathetic and murder-hungry vampire anyone has come across. Readers get to follow her into the world of vampirism, ruled by a heavy-handed council and fraught with all the sensuality and darkness one would expect, yet Dominick paints it in an aptly gritty light.
Despite Cy's dreaminess, vampires are not all human-loving softies. They are murderers, some of them rapists, and some power-hungry political assholes. Basically, a very realistic take on what a vampire society would look like.
I'll be honest: I wasn't a fan of Opal, and I get the sense I wasn't meant to be. She's dark, emotionless, and so far from human that there's no connection. Which is precisely the point, m'dear. I found myself skimming some of these chapters to get back to Elsie and Cy (what can I say, I'm a simple girl), but—believe me—once Elsie's and Opal's stories clash, each chapter suddenly has weight.
You might be wondering: what's the conflict? A psychotic vampire ex with a vendetta against Cy and, by association, Elsie, and a vampire council that could bring their fist down at any moment, that's what.
But this story is so character-driven (and the conflict so twisty-turny, I dare not spoil it for you guys) that I wanted this review to focus on those characters.
I categorized this as an Emotional Read because while there is a plot with plenty of action scenes, that wasn't the focus. This book, at least to me, was an exploration of love and loss, mediocrity clashing with passion, kindness and darkness, and two warring ideals of justice that aren't black and white. I enjoyed this book in all its emotional complexity and that, while it ends on a good note, it's not without sacrifice.
As a final point, this book deals with a lot of sensitive material on sexual assault, but I never felt it took precedence over the characters. Rather, it's a reminder throughout that this evil exists in the world and justice is so rarely meted out for such crimes. While Dominick keeps anything graphic respectfully off-screen, readers are still privy to the aftermath of various forms of assault and the lack of legal punishment accompanying the acts.
Is it comfortable to read? No, it never is, but it was not done without taste or a good purpose. It's an important message to plant within a story of female empowerment, and I wish more books dealt with this harsh reality in such a straightforward yet compassionate approach.
Ultimately, though, this is a story about a human and a vampire (two, counting Cy) and how, even when the world is bleak, light can be found in the people we come to love.
Enjoy this review? Share on social media to give this book a boost. If you're inclined to purchase a copy for yourself, you can find the Amazon listing below. Also, maybe buy an extra copy to throw at someone who needs to read it?