Kate’s Review: “The Hollow Ones”

52594581Book: “The Hollow Ones” by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Publishing Info: Grand Central Publishing, August 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher.

Book Description: A horrific crime that defies ordinary explanation. A rookie FBI agent in dangerous, uncharted territory. An extraordinary hero for the ages. Odessa Hardwicke’s life is derailed when she’s forced to turn her gun on her partner, Walt Leppo, a decorated FBI agent who turns suddenly, inexplicably violent while apprehending a rampaging murderer. The shooting, justified by self-defense, shakes the young FBI agent to her core. Devastated, Odessa is placed on desk leave pending a full investigation.

But what most troubles Odessa isn’t the tragedy itself-it’s the shadowy presence she thought she saw fleeing the deceased agent’s body after his death. Questioning her future with the FBI and her sanity, Hardwicke accepts a low-level assignment to clear out the belongings of a retired agent in the New York office. What she finds there will put her on the trail of a mysterious figure named John Blackwood, a man of enormous means who claims to have been alive for centuries, and who is either an unhinged lunatic, or humanity’s best and only defense against unspeakable evil. 

Review: Thank you to Grand Central Publishing for sending me an eARC of this book!

I have loved Guillermo del Toro ever since I saw “Pan’s Labyrinth” back in college. I don’t think that there is one del Toro movie that I haven’t at the very least been entertained by. I try to see all of his movies, and I went to his traveling show of his personal collection of props and artwork when it came to Minneapolis. I also liked his foray into writing, having enjoyed his novel adaptation of “The Shape of Water”, and his vampire dystopia “The Strain” Trilogy that he wrote with Chuck Hogan. So when I had the opportunity to read his and Hogan’s newest collaboration, “The Hollow Ones”, I leapt at the chance. It was a fun surprise too, as I had no idea that they had a new book coming out. I really gotta get more on top of my del Toro stanning I guess.

We move from vampire lore and into demons and possession with “The Hollow Ones”, where del Toro and Hogan give us a mythology and magical system with some influences from a few different sources. You have references to occultist John Dee, references to Voodoo and Hoodoo, and inspirations from Judeo-Christian ideas of possession and Western occultism. Our protagonist Odessa is trying to reconcile the strange and horrible things that she has seen or has been hearing about as mass murders and spree killings start breaking out around New York and New Jersey, namely having to turn her gun on her FBI partner after he turned uncharacteristically violent during a confrontation with a mass murderer. Odessa serves as the audiences’ stand in as she learns about the dark magic at hand, and after she is connected to the mysterious John Blackwood (in my ARC his name was John Silence, but that has changed for the final product). Blackwood has been chasing insidious beings called Hollow Ones for centuries, his immortality a curse tied in with these creatures that jump from host to host and cause as much violence as possible while inside. We not only explore Blackwood and Odessa’s teaming up in the present, but also Blackwood’s partnership with Soloman, a Black FBI agent who had a similar case in the 1960s in the Deep South, and who is now the man to connect Odessa to Blackwood after a Hollow One has started up again. I liked seeing the juxtaposition of two agents having to contend with being Others within their field (Soloman’s arc in particular was a fascinating comment on the Jim Crow South and how being a Black agent put a target on his back), and having to hunt down a disturbing evil with a strange and awkward immortal. It’s just kind of a fun concept, and del Toro and Hogan make the system believable and interesting enough that it’s ripe with potential for scares and shocks. And let me tell you, scare and shock it does, as the Hollow One we are following is INCREDIBLY violent, so much so that I feel a need to put a content warning for a particular scene involving this creature and a baby. Yeah, that wasn’t an easy moment to read for me right now. But it does show that del Toro and Hogan aren’t fucking around with this thing, and also shows just what Odessa and Blackwood are up against, and what Soloman and Blackwood were up against previously.

All that said, “The Hollow Ones” never really moved from ripe potential into a full blown pay off. While it does follow a clear path and story, and while the foundation is there for something really great, I felt that it totally captivated me. I liked Odessa a lot, but Blackwood wasn’t terribly interesting to me even though he should, as a cursed immortal, should be INTERESTING. And on top of all that, it’s very difficult these days to ignore or overlook stories where authors take ideas and concepts from other cultures and don’t do the due diligence to do so appropriately. While I enjoyed the themes and plot aspects of the 1960s storyline, using Voodoo, Hoodoo, and folklore from slave narratives felt very uncomfortable, especially since it was being used in a way that appeared to be ‘demonic’, or at least Othering. I love you, del Toro, but that stuff may not be for you to play with in the stories you tell. Not unless you are VERY careful and respectful with how you do it. And I’m not saying that I think that this was intentionally racist, but it does go to show that some of those past tropes in horror (occultism, the mysterious ‘voodoo’ spells, etc) really do have problematic origins and that you can’t really hold it up through a lens of nostalgia.

This is the start of a series I have heard, and I will probably pick up the next book. As I said, lots of potential in the world building and the characters themselves. But “The Hollow Ones” wasn’t the big bang I was hoping for.

Rating 6: A solid horror thriller with some interesting ideas, “The Hollow Ones” has potential, but doesn’t quite flesh itself out as much as I had hoped, and delved in some culturally appropriative storytelling elements.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Hollow Ones” is included on the Goodreads list “Horror to Look Forward To in 2020”.

Find “The Hollow Ones” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Year of the Witching”

49789629Book: “The Year of the Witching” by Alexis Henderson

Publishing Info: Ace, July 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received and eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: A young woman living in a rigid, puritanical society discovers dark powers within herself in this stunning, feminist fantasy debut.

In the lands of Bethel, where the Prophet’s word is law, Immanuelle Moore’s very existence is blasphemy. Her mother’s union with an outsider of a different race cast her once-proud family into disgrace, so Immanuelle does her best to worship the Father, follow Holy Protocol, and lead a life of submission, devotion, and absolute conformity, like all the other women in the settlement.

But a mishap lures her into the forbidden Darkwood surrounding Bethel, where the first prophet once chased and killed four powerful witches. Their spirits are still lurking there, and they bestow a gift on Immanuelle: the journal of her dead mother, who Immanuelle is shocked to learn once sought sanctuary in the wood.

Fascinated by the secrets in the diary, Immanuelle finds herself struggling to understand how her mother could have consorted with the witches. But when she begins to learn grim truths about the Church and its history, she realizes the true threat to Bethel is its own darkness. And she starts to understand that if Bethel is to change, it must begin with her.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

So for the past few months some friends and I have been continuing our ‘Horror Movie Club’ that we had just started before social distancing became the name of the game. We log into Netflix and open up Netflix Party, then watch a scary movie every Tuesday. Back in May we watched “The VVitch”, one of my favorite witch movies because damn, that ending. I was the only one who had seen it, and when that ending twist came the chat exploded with glee and I basked in the (what I see as ) feminist message at the end. You intertwine witchcraft and feminism and I am totally there. So when I read the description for “The Year of the Witching” by Alexis Henderson, I immediately, IMMEDIATELY, requested it from NetGalley. I want MORE feminist witchcraft in my reading, after all.

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EMPOWERMENT! HEXES! PATRIARCHY SMASHING! I WANT IT ALL! (source)

First and foremost, it should be noted that “The Year of the Witching” is a dark fantasy, bordering on straight horror story. Horror in terms of scary imagery, but also horror in terms of the horrors of fundamentalism, misogyny, racism, and corruption. Bethel is a community that seems to take some of its inspiration from Puritanism and the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints, with nods to Puritan beliefs of witch craft and the FLDS notions of a Prophet and polygamy. Citizens are kept in line with religion, and girls and women are the ones who bear the brunt of the hardships and the punishments for stepping out of place. Immanuelle is accepted by her family and mostly by the community, but is always Othered because of her mother’s ‘sin’ and because of her race. It’s far too seldom that witch stories involve Black of brown witches (with a few recent exceptions), so for Immanuelle to have the potential for magical powers and to be biracial with dark skin is pretty awesome. It also opens up the potential to  not only explore misogyny in Bethel, but also misogynoir as well. The entire society is an exploration in how a society can use fear and religion to exert control and power over its members, and at the top of this is the Prophet, who leads the town and passes judgements that sometimes end in pyres where women and outsiders are burned for the sins of being women and outsiders. And while the people in Bethel are being subjectted to this, it’s very clear that they are still complicit in this system.

That isn’t to say that Henderson falls into the trap of ‘one side is completely evil and the other side is completely good’, as the witches of the Darkwood that Immanuelle is drawn to (as was her mother) are described as evangelists in their own right. Immanuelle is caught between two extremes, and has to suss out if out of reaction to one side she will swing all the way to the other side, which has its own malevolence. Henderson really figured out how to find the nuance, which we don’t always get to see in stories that have as much rage and revolution in them as “The Year of the Witching” does. Which is awesome. Instead of falling merely into rage, even if that rage is completely justified, Henderson lets Immanuelle explore other ways to proceed when it comes to the liberation of herself and the women in her life. And I loved that.

And yes, this is a very creepy tale with some really neat witch mythos inside of it. You have your usual ‘cast out women who were seeking power’ tale, but Henderson goes a little further with it, giving each witch in the coven a specific backstory, specific roles they played before and after the clash, and unique descriptors that harken to folk horror as well as body horror. I especially loved the descriptions of Lilith, aka The Mother, who is the leader and in direct opposition of The Father and what the people of Bethel believe. I don’t want to spoil her description because I really want it to to be a surprise to readers, but holy hell, it’s both something out of a nightmare and also powerful as hell.

“The Year of the Witching” is an excellent YA horror novel with a lot to say. Do yourself a favor and get your hands on it. Especially if you loved the end of “The VVitch”.

Rating 10: Spooky, angry, feminist and empowering, “The Year of the Witching” is a dark and scary tale of agency, independence, and discovering your inner power.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Year of the Witching” is included on the Goodreads lists “Dystopias with Gender or Religion-specific Phobics”, and “Black Heroines 2020”.

Find “The Year of the Witching” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Only Good Indians”

49045750Book: “The Only Good Indians” by Stephen Graham Jones

Publishing Info: Gallery/Saga Press, July 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: The creeping horror of Paul Tremblay meets Tommy Orange’s There There in a dark novel of revenge, cultural identity, and the cost of breaking from tradition in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.

Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

It wasn’t until recently that I decided to give Stephen Graham Jones a try in terms of looking at a new horror author. I knew that he was a favorite of a friend of mine, and I had requested his book “Mongrels” but never got around to reading it. But when I saw that his newest book, “The Only Good Indians” was available as a ‘Wish For It’ option on NetGalley (aka if you throw your hat in the ring, you may get lucky and get a copy. Kind of a literary lottery for us book reviewers!), I thought why the heck not, and clicked the wish button. To my great (and pleasant) surprise, I was sent an eARC of the book, and waited until it was closer to the publication date to give it a go. It became very clear from the get go of two things: this was going to be quite the experience, and that I had really missed out during my wishy washy ‘I’ll get to him eventually’ malarkey.

“The Only Good Indians” is a horror novel, but it takes great care to go much deeper than merely trying to scare the reader. Along with the tension and scares, we get a deep and heartfelt look into the minds and lives of our main players, all of whom are marked for doom, though the reasons as to why are held close to the vest. Four men, Lewis, Gabriel, Cassidy, and Ricky are four Blackfeet men who were friends in their youth but have vaguely grown apart for various reasons. But the biggest thing that connects them now is a decade old hunting trip that ended with not only the breaking of important traditions. Not only did they hunt on a part of the reservation that was reserved for the elders of the group, they also killed far more elk than they really needed to, including one young female that really, really fought to live. Though they tried to make things right by using as much of the bodies as they could, and giving all the meat to the elders, they were banned from hunting on the reservation ever again. And now, something is hunting them down one by one. It seems like it could be a paint by numbers vengeance folk horror story, but Jones dives in deeper, slowly letting the reader get to know each of these men and the various highs and lows that they reckon with in their day to day lives. By the time vengeance has arrived, you know so much about these men that them being in danger raises the stakes higher than they normally would be. And not only do we get to know them, Jones intermingles their stories along with themes of what modern Indigenous people both on and off the reservation have to contend with, from a loss of identity to a disconnect from traditions to substance abuse to flat out racism. When you take this weaving of social justice issues into a horror motif, what you get is a story that hits you all the more in the gut, but also brings in bits of humor and joy and hope that, if not for these men, that things can slowly be better for those they care about of the younger generations. That is, if this hellbent on revenge and angry entity doesn’t get to them first.

And let’s talk about the horror aspects. Because HELL YES, this is EXACTLY what I want from my folk horror. Jones lets the tension ebb and flow, with slow burning building up and explosive climaxes, and a slow build up again onto the next. It makes the dread feel palpable and makes it so that it’s hard to put the story down. On top of that, the reader really gets into the minds of not only the four hunters, but also that of the thing that is after them. You understand it’s motives, you understand it’s rage, and you can’t help but feel like all of that is justified. It’s easy just to have a monster that slowly takes people out one by one, but far more satisfying to see what makes the monster tick. And with the more subtle and cerebral horror of that we also get some very graphic, gross you out body horror and unsettling imagery that has stuck with me ever since I finished the book. Take all this into account with the social justice issues, and I think that the comparisons between Jones and Jordan Peele are fairly justified. Though that said, Jones stands on his own, no question.

“The Only Good Indians” was a fantastic and emotional horror novel. Don’t make the same mistake I did, people! If you’ve been sleeping on Jones, go out and read this book. You will not regret it.

Rating 9: Haunting, horrifying, and hopeful, “The Only Good Indians” is an examination of revenge, identity, and the circles of violence that can cause such pain.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Only Good Indians” is included on the Goodreads lists “2020 Books by Native Authors and Authors of Color”, and “2020 Horror to Scream For”.

Find “The Only Good Indians” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Survivor Song”

52581895Book: “Survivor Song” by Paul Tremblay

Publishing Info: William Morrow, July 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: “Fresh and surprising. Survivor Song may be one of Tremblay’s best—beautifully detailed, viscerally frightening, and deep with emotional resonance. —Dan Chaon, New York Times bestselling author of Ill Will

A riveting novel of suspense and terror from the Bram Stoker award-winning author of The Cabin at the End of the World and A Head Full of Ghosts.

In a matter of weeks, Massachusetts has been overrun by an insidious rabies-like virus that is spread by saliva. But unlike rabies, the disease has a terrifyingly short incubation period of an hour or less. Those infected quickly lose their minds and are driven to bite and infect as many others as they can before they inevitably succumb. Hospitals are inundated with the sick and dying, and hysteria has taken hold. To try to limit its spread, the commonwealth is under quarantine and curfew. But society is breaking down and the government’s emergency protocols are faltering.

Dr. Ramola “Rams” Sherman, a soft-spoken pediatrician in her mid-thirties, receives a frantic phone call from Natalie, a friend who is eight months pregnant. Natalie’s husband has been killed—viciously attacked by an infected neighbor—and in a failed attempt to save him, Natalie, too, was bitten. Natalie’s only chance of survival is to get to a hospital as quickly as possible to receive a rabies vaccine. The clock is ticking for her and for her unborn child.

Natalie’s fight for life becomes a desperate odyssey as she and Rams make their way through a hostile landscape filled with dangers beyond their worst nightmares—terrifying, strange, and sometimes deadly challenges that push them to the brink. 

Paul Tremblay once again demonstrates his mastery in this chilling and all-too-plausible novel that will leave readers racing through the pages . . . and shake them to their core.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

Given that I have greatly enjoyed everything that Paul Tremblay has written, it was a no brainer that I was super interested when I found out that he had a new book coming out called “Survivor Song”. I am pretty sure it was this past winter that I requested it on NetGalley to read an advanced copy, maybe January or February. I tend to like to hold off on reading the ARCs I get from NetGalley until it’s closer to the publication date, just so a review is fresh in my mind. So it wasn’t until we were in the clutches of a pandemic, with PPE shortages, high death rates, a mysterious virus, and quarantine that I picked up a book about an epidemic…. with PPE shortages, high death rates, a mysterious virus, and quarantine….

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For. Fuck’s. Sake. (source)

BUT, we beat on, boats against the current etc, because it’s Paul Tremblay, a favorite author of mine. And I knew that if anyone was going to make the best of it, it is him. And hey, given another significant theme in this story at least I’m not pregnant too! You have to look for the bright side.

“Survivor Song” is a terrifying epidemic story that takes the zombie tale and twists it around into something else. I’d say that the closest comparison I could draw would be to “28 Days Later”, as in this story it isn’t the undead that are wreaking havoc, but people infected with a sped up rabies-like virus. But unlike “28 Days Later”, “Survivor Song” has a whole lot of hopeful heart beating at its center, and that is because of the enduring friendship between our protagonists, Romola and Natalie. These two women are racing against the clock, as very pregnant Natalie was bitten by an infected person and they hope to get her to a hospital where they can administer a vaccination. As one can imagine, it doesn’t go as planned, and both women have to venture forth in hopes of a plan B as the clock ticks away. Tremblay so effortlessly paints their relationship and friendship that you are immediately rooting for them, and the reader can see themself and their best friend in these characters very easily. I loved how realistic their friendship was, from the compassion and support to the sniping and the desperation. They meet a few people along the way, from teenage wise asses to terrifying milia members, and as they journey forth and the stakes rise higher and higher, the tension spikes and will leave you scared for them, and hoping they make it through. Both women feel real, and their motivations are laid out plainly. Even though it is made clear at the beginning that this is no fairy tale, you still have hope. Tremblay always knows how to give the reader hope, even when things are dark and despairing. It’s one of the things I love about his work.

In terms of the horror, oh boy. The timing of this book, as mentioned above, couldn’t have been better or worse depending on how you want to look at it. Tremblay nails every issue that we are currently experiencing with the COVID-19 pandemic, from PPE shortages to anti-scientific thought to conspiracies run amok to a government that doesn’t act and dooms thousands. As I was reading this book I just shook my head. It’s too real. That would be the only reason that I wouldn’t rate this book as high as I might have otherwise. That isn’t Tremblay’s fault. Hell, if anything he nailed it. But as of now, when I don’t feel safe going into public for extended periods of time, or feel like my parents can hold my kid, or I see more and more deaths as people say that having to wear a mask is tyranny, “Survivor Song” just hits a little too close to home.

Don’t let that stop you from reading this book. It’s really quite good, even if it’s hard to handle. Paul Tremblay is one of my faves for a reason. “Survivor Song” reiterates that.

Rating 8: Definitely a little hard to ‘enjoy’ in this moment, “Survivor Song” is both terrifying and emotional, but showcases the power of lady friendship above all else.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Survivor Song” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but I think that it would fit in on “Smart Apocalyptic and Dystopian Fiction”, and “Books for a Pandemic”.

Find “Survivor Song” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Sandman (Vol.2): The Doll’s House”

25099Book: “The Sandman (Vol.2): The Doll’s House” by Neil Gaiman, Steve Parkhouse (Ill.), Chris Bachalo (Ill.), Michael Zulli (Ill.), Mike Dringenberg (Ill.), & Malcolm Jones III (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, June 1990

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: A being who has existed since the beginning of the universe, Dream of the Endless rules over the realm of dreams. In The Doll’s House, after a decades-long imprisonment, the Sandman has returned to find that a few dreams and nightmares have escaped to reality. Looking to recapture his lost possessions, Morpheus ventures to the human plane only to learn that a woman named Rose Walker has inadvertently become a dream vortex and threatens to rip apart his world. Now as Morpheus takes on the last escaped nightmare at a serial killers convention, the Lord of Dreams must mercilessly murder Rose or risk the destruction of his entire kingdom.

Collecting issues #9-16, this new edition of The Doll’s House features the improved production values and coloring from the Absolute Edition.

Review: Our revisit of this classic comic series presses on, and now that Morpheus/Dream has reclaimed his power over The Dreaming, he has more work to do! As I continue my re-read I have been struck by how visceral and enchanting “The Sandman” universe is, and while it does still harken to other DC characters and mythos on occasion, we have started to stay firmly within a world of Gaiman’s making. And it is just as engrossing this time as it was the first time.

I don’t know why I waited so long to revisit Dream, The Endless, and the Dreaming, because going back to “The Sandman (Vol. 2): The Doll’s House” really hit home how much I love this series. There’s dark humor, there’s lovely fantastical world building as you get more familiar with The Dreaming (Dream’s domain he rules over) and begin to meet other Endless (specifically Desire in this arc), and there’s an undercurrent of horror to go along with the fantasy. Our main drive this time is that of Rose Walker, a woman who is, unknown to her, a Dream Vortex, and therefore something very dangerous for The Dreaming as her very existence could damage it beyond repair. On top of that, a few of Dream’s Nightmares have escaped, and are wreaking havoc in different ways. In this volume Dream is still trying to re-steer his ship after his captivity, and we see just how far the damage of his absence has  gone. Rose has her own mission, and it is to find her little brother, who has gone missing. With the help of a mysterious but kind man named Gilbert, Rose goes looking for her brother, just as Dream starts looking for her. We see a few callbacks to other parts of “Preludes and Nocturnes”, which were done in slow and subtle ways, which made them feel all the more satisfactory as they were peeled back and revealed. The dreamlike atmosphere of this series is still present, as is the darkness. This time that horror aspect is in the form of a ‘Cereal Convention” that Rose and Gilbert stumble upon, which is actually a gathering of serial killers that are hoping to share insight with each other. I had forgotten how twisted this entire thing was, and let me tell you Gaiman doesn’t hold back. To the point that I really feel a need to give a content warning for abuse and sexual assault (and also a note that there is descriptions of violence against trans people in particular. Which felt very problematic but also very of the time that this series was going).

But once again, it’s a standalone story that has a lot of philosophical oomph and a lot of heart that stood out to me in this volume. While the arc of Rose Walker and the ‘cereal’ convention is definitely stellar, it was the story “Men of Good Fortune”, in which Dream and Death decide to give a man named Hob Gadling eternal life after they hear him waxing philosophical about mortality in a pub in 1389. Every hundred years, Hob and Dream meet at this pub, and Hob tells Dream about what he is doing with his eternity. There are highs and lows as Hob experiences the evolution of London, and we get to see how he changes the direction of his life and how it leads to success and devastation. What struck me the most about this story, outside of seeing how one person might shift and evolve with the world they live in were they to have eternity to do so, is that Hob and Dream are an unlikely set of friends whose friendship feels natural and touching. I remembered that Hob pops up here and there throughout the series, but I had forgotten how lovely his introduction was.

The art is still excellent. We’ve started to see more experimentation in design, style, and placement, and while sometimes there is a very traditional art style (like in “Men of Good Fortune”), sometimes it is very abstract. It really just adds to the flavor of the atmosphere that they’re all trying to create, and for the most part it works.

“The Sandman (Vol.2): The Doll’s House” opens up the series to more possibilities, and more darkness. You can tell that this is something very special on these pages.

Rating 9: More chills and world building along with introductions to more of the Endless, “The Sandman (Vol. 2): The Doll’s House” keeps the horror elements up while also showing moments of true tenderness.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Sandman (Vol.2): The Doll’s House” is included on the Goodreads lists “Great Non-Superhero Graphic Novels”, and “Psychological and Philosophical Comics”.

Find “The Sandman (Vol.2): The Doll’s House” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Previously Reviewed: 

Kate’s Review: “Home Before Dark”

50833559._sx318_sy475_Book: “Home Before Dark” by Riley Sager

Publishing Info: Dutton Books, June 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: What was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

In the latest thriller from New York Times bestseller Riley Sager, a woman returns to the house made famous by her father’s bestselling horror memoir. Is the place really haunted by evil forces, as her father claimed? Or are there more earthbound—and dangerous—secrets hidden within its walls?

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this book!

Back when I was a teenager and I was using my Blockbuster privileges to rent horror movies, I took an opportunity to rent “The Amityville Horror”, classic haunted house/’based on a true story’ horror movie. I remember eating take out tacos form a local taqueria and sitting in the basement watching this movie, banished there as no one else in my family likes horror movies and the upstairs VCR was reserved for something else. I remember really enjoying it at the time. It was a few years after that that I came upon the ample evidence that it was all a hoax, a lie to give the Lutz family a nice pay day and to set up a murder defense for Ronny DeFeo, who had murdered his entire family in the house before the Lutzes moved in. I read the book a couple years ago, and taking it as the fiction story that it is I thought it was fun, if not a little cliche. When I found out that Riley Sager’s new book “Home Before Dark” was a haunted house story, and that was basically a homage to the entire “Amityville” saga, let me tell you I was incredibly excited and couldn’t wait to see what kinds of twists and haunts Sager was going to bring to this concept.

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I will admit I was hoping for a ghost pig. Maybe not named Jody. But some kind of ghost pig anyway. (source)

“Home Before Dark” has two stories within its pages: it tells the story of the book ‘House of Horrors’, a narrative of the Holt Family, who moved into the notorious Baneberry Hall, tried to live within its walls, but then ran after being there for a few weeks due to an increasingly violent haunting, never to return. The second is that of Maggie Holt, the daughter and the main target of the ghosts within the book, who had to live with the runaway hit that ‘House of Horrors’ became, even if she has no memory of such horrors happening and believes that it was all lies her father Ewan made up. The juxtaposition of Maggie’s present reality, and the reality that Ewan perhaps made up for his book, mesh very well together, and lend context to each other just when it’s most needed. Both mysteries we follow are interesting and kept me guessing, and as Maggie starts to wonder if perhaps her father wasn’t lying when her stay at Baneberry Hall starts to take strange and disturbing turns, it makes the reader all the more interested in what is coming next in the ‘House of Horrors’ section in the book. Sager puts the pieces in all the right places, and the suspense keeps building and you will keep questioning if maybe, just maybe, there are ghosts after all that are lying in wait for Maggie after all. I didn’t figure any of the twists or surprises out, which gives this extra points to be certain. Sager has always kept me guessing, and “Home Before Dark” was no different.

The scary moments are very well done, creepy and ominous and definitely scary enough to make me giggle with glee and just a little bit of hesitance. Sager sets the atmosphere and gives the house a very dark history, and while it definitely references some of the tropes that you expect in stories like this, it still feels very fresh and interesting. And ‘House of Horrors’ is just the perfect love letter to “The Amityville Horror”, with cheeky references and nods to an iconic haunted house that still lives (on even if it’s all bullshit at the end of the day). It was a great idea to give us that entire narrative as well, because that way you get two great tales for the price of one, and one of those tales is a stellar ghost story.

“Home Before Dark” continues Riley Sager’s streak of great thriller/horror stories. I always go into his new books worried that there will be a stumble, but as of now, he’s four for four. And “Home Before Dark” might be my favorite of the lot.

Rating 9: Another great scary story from one of my favorite scary story authors, “Home Before Dark” will give you the willies even on the warmest summer day.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Home Before Dark” is included on the Goodreads lists “Horror To Look Forward To in 2020”. And if you want to experience the book it seems to take inspiration from, pick up “The Amityville Horror”.

Find “Home Before Dark” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Joint Review: “Mexican Gothic”

53152636._sx318_sy475_Book: “Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Publishing Info: Del Rey, June 2020

Where Did We Get This Book: NetGalley; Edelweiss

Book Description: An isolated mansion. A chillingly charismatic artistocrat. And a brave socialite drawn to expose their treacherous secrets. . . .

From the author of Gods of Jade and Shadow comes “a terrifying twist on classic gothic horror” (Kirkus Reviews) set in glamorous 1950s Mexico—“fans of classic novels like Jane Eyre and Rebecca are in for a suspenseful treat” (PopSugar).

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.

Serena’s Thoughts

I love Silvia Moreno-Garcia. She’s such a unique talent.  I’ve now read three or four books by her, and they all spanned different time periods, genres, and themes. It’s truly incredible to find an author who can succeed in so many different lanes. We’ve got fairytale fantasy; we’ve got historical regency romance with a dash of fantasy; and now she comes with a new story mixing fantasy (of course) with gothic horror. And while horror isn’t typically my thing, I do like the creepy novel now and then, and this one seemed like just the thing for me.

The story definitely has some “Yellow Wallpaper” vibes, and I loved every bit of it. When Noemi arrives at the mysterious mansion, High Place, everything is just enough off to feel strange and eerie, but not too strange as to immediately raise alarm. Instead, it’s just the type of creepy dread that makes Noemi, and the reader, begin to question just where the line is drawn between reality and superimposed horror. Are their true mysteries here or is the setting, people, and house, all in their equal strangeness, just enough to spark a wild imagination?

Throughout the story, I found myself routinely falling into the classic horror-bystander role where you scream “just get out of there” at your heroes as they creep into a dark basement or linger in a mysterious place. But the author does a great job creating a situation where the threats are of the sort that if I had been in Noemi’s place, I, too, may have questioned my own reactions. This ties nicely into some fairly well-covered themes about women and how they are almost trained to question their perception of things and doubt their own observations. The question of whether one will be believed or not, or simply dismissed as hysterical, is very real today as it was in the past. And, of course, in the past and the time period during which this is set, women’s choices were that much more limited, especially when married.

I did find elements of the fantastical elements involved in the story to be a bit confusing and hard to track. A long history begins to unfold, and I wasn’t quite sure how exactly it all tied together. But most of the time, this didn’t matter as I was so caught up in the tension that it was enough to accept that it just was. I really loved the Gothic vibes that were brought into the story, and they were blended seamlessly into a location and culture where you don’t typically find this type of story. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, creepiness and all!

Kate’s Thoughts

I love the horror genre as a whole, but it’s hard to deny that a lot of the powerhouses and more popular works are very white dominated. That isn’t to say that progress isn’t being made; on the contrary, as pushes for diversity ramp up in publishing we are seeing more horror tales written by BIPOC. But we still have a long way to go. When I heard about “Mexican Gothic”, I was thrilled to see that we had a take on the Gothic genre from a perspective that wasn’t a white woman, as is the usual suspect within this kind of tale. I will admit that I was a little nervous going in, as Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s other work I’m familiar with is fantasy. Would she be able to make such a huge switch in genre tone? Turns out I was a dope to worry about it, because she nailed the scare factor and creepiness in “Mexican Gothic”.

Noemí is the perfect Gothic protagonist, as she comes from a gregarious and effervescent lifestyle in Mexico City and being thrust into the isolation of the Mexican countryside. It is the exact kind of scenario you see in the genre, and her personality of wanting to figure out what is going on, and then questioning if she is just overreacting when those around her dismiss her, feels so right for the Gothic vibes. But Moreno-Garcia takes it a couple steps further, not only taking on the themes of sexism and misogyny that are prevalent in Gothic lit, but also that of racism and prejudice. Noemí and her cousin are two Latina women who are now living in an English family’s estate, and their history of colonization in the area is what built up their wealth… and also may have something to do with the secrets they are hiding. For Noemí and Catalina, not only are they vulnerable because they are women, but also because they are brown women, and that fact is a really great way to make this story feel all the more fresh and relevant.

And the horror elements were definitely unsettling and outright scary. Not only the fantastical and supernatural ones, but also the real life horrors that Noemí discovers during her time at High Place. As Serena mentioned above, there are the questions as to whether or not Noemí is slowly losing her grip on reality, or if the things she’s experiencing, unsettling imagery and sounds and feelings, are actually happening. There were some really well described moments that made me squirm, which is exactly what I want from a Gothic horror novel.

“Mexican Gothic” is a great spooky read, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia continues to delight and show off her talents! Fans of Gothic novels absolutely need to check it out.

Serena’s Rating 9: Tension-filled and scary, this book makes it easy to feel as if you, too, are being sucked into the mysteries of High Place.

Kate’s Rating 9: A creepy and refreshing take on the genre, “Mexican Gothic” will fill all you may need from a good Gothic tale!

Reader’s Advisory

“Mexican Gothic” is included on the Goodreads lists “2020 Gothic”, and “Paper Lantern Writers: Best Own Voices Historical Fiction”.

Find “Mexican Gothic” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Something Is Killing the Children (Vol. 1)”

52757827._sx318_sy475_Book: “Something Is Killing the Children (Vol.1)” by James Tynion IV and Werther Dell’Edera (Ill.).

Publishing Info: BOOM!Studios, May 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: When children begin to go missing in the town of Archer’s Peak, all hope seems lost until a mysterious woman arrives to reveal that terrifying creatures are behind the chaos – and that she alone will destroy them, no matter the cost.

IT’S THE MONSTERS WHO SHOULD BE AFRAID.

When the children of Archer’s Peak—a sleepy town in the heart of America—begin to go missing, everything seems hopeless. Most children never return, but the ones that do have terrible stories—impossible details of terrifying creatures that live in the shadows. Their only hope of finding and eliminating the threat is the arrival of a mysterious stranger, one who believes the children and claims to be the only one who sees what they can see. 

Her name is Erica Slaughter. She kills monsters. That is all she does, and she bears the cost because it must be done.

GLAAD Award-winning writer James Tynion IV (The Woods, Batman: Detective Comics) teams with artist Werther Dell’Edera (Briggs Land) for an all-new story about staring into the abyss.

Collects Something is Killing the Children #1-5.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this book!

It’s been awhile since I tackled a straight up horror comic, so when I saw “Something Is Killing the Children (Vol.1)” I was immediately interested in reading it. I am vaguely familiar with James Tynion IV, as we read one of his comics for our book club a few years ago, but I hadn’t sought him out otherwise. I went into “Something Is Killing the Children” with my expectations of what I remembered from his other comic, but those expectations were tossed out the window almost immediately. “Something Is Killing the Children” doesn’t hold back, and it jumps almost immediately into the darkness that surrounds it.

And I should probably throw content warnings out there, because this comic doesn’t shy away from a lot of gore, gore involving children.

The plot is straightforward enough, with terrible things happening in a small town and a mysterious stranger coming to fight the evil that’s hiding in the shadows. Standard stuff, but I was still immersed because I’m a sucker for small towns with dark undertones. We mostly follow our monster hunter Erica Slaughter, but we also get to see the perspective of James, one of the teens who was attacked but spared, and therefore under suspicion from the other people in town. Throw in a couple others, like the brother of a missing girl, and the police officer on the case, though theirs are not as interesting as Erica’s and James’s. That said, we do get to have a number of sides of the plot through all these strings, and we slowly learn about the monsters that are plaguing the town, and also about the town and its inhabitants. A world and a mythos is being built slowly, and this volume was very much setting up dominoes that are undoubtedly going to fall as the story goes on. I like seeing these moments of building blocks being set in place, and I liked learning what we did about the mythology of the monsters, and those who hunt them. And they are genuinely scary. And super disturbing. That content warning I gave is no joke.

Plot aside, I also am very much intrigued by our protagonist, the mysterious Erica Slaughter. We know that she’s a monster hunter, and we know that she is part of some kind of group that goes out to take care of these things, but outside of that she is a mystery. She’s jaded, she’s determined, and she’s cold as ice, even though we see glimmers of empathy for James and his situation. She isn’t afraid to use violence if she needs to, but it’s also hinted at that this life is starting to make her weary. As someone who was a huge “Buffy” fan back in the day, she reminds me a LOT of Faith Lehane, but without the sarcasm, and just the potential damage and baggage she’s carrying. So I, of course, am so in love with her that it hurts, and I want to know EVERYTHING about her. But Tynion is keeping that close to the vest for now, which just makes me want to dive into the next arc even more, because we need more female characters that remind me of Faith Lehane.

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Queen. (source)

I really liked the artwork too, as it’s visceral and intense, which matches the story very well. I’m unfamiliar with Werther Dell’Edera, but his style works very well with the plot at hand. The reds are VERY red, and while other colors are muted a bit it serves for a powerful contrast that makes the violence all the more horrific.

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(source)

My one complaint is less to do with the story itself, and more to do with the formatting. The way that this book downloaded through NetGalley only would load one page at a time, so reading it on my screen was difficult when more creative styles layered one panel over multiple pages. I’m sure that this could be tweaked and adjusted on other eReaders and in other platforms, but it goes to show that sometimes designs with one format in mind don’t translate as well to others.

Overall, I was completely taken with “Something Is Killing the Children (Vol.1)”. I will absolutely be on the lookout for the next in the trade collection, and I can’t say that I will be terribly patient as I wait.

Rating 8: A scary horror comic with a lot of interesting potential, “Something Is Killing The Children (Vol.1)” has set up a creepy and intriguing world of monsters and monster hunters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Something Is Killing the Children (Vol.1)” is included on the Goodreads list “North American Supernatural Realism”.

Find “Something Is Killing the Children (Vol.1)” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “If It Bleeds”

46015758._sy475_Book: “If It Bleeds” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Scribner, April 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: A collection of four uniquely wonderful long stories, including a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestseller The Outsider.

News people have a saying: ‘If it bleeds, it leads’. And a bomb at Albert Macready Middle School is guaranteed to lead any bulletin.

Holly Gibney of the Finders Keepers detective agency is working on the case of a missing dog – and on her own need to be more assertive – when she sees the footage on TV. But when she tunes in again, to the late-night report, she realizes there is something not quite right about the correspondent who was first on the scene. So begins ‘If It Bleeds’ , a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestselling The Outsider featuring the incomparable Holly on her first solo case – and also the riveting title story in Stephen King’s brilliant new collection.

Dancing alongside are three more wonderful long stories from this ‘formidably versatile author’ (The Sunday Times) – ‘Mr Harrigan’s Phone’, ‘The Life of Chuck’ and ‘Rat’ . All four display the richness of King’s storytelling with grace, humor, horror and breathtaking suspense. A fascinating Author’s Note gives us a wonderful insight into the origin of each story and the writer’s unparalleled imagination.

The novella is a form King has returned to over and over again in the course of his amazing career, and many have been made into iconic films, If It Bleeds is a uniquely satisfying collection of longer short fiction by an incomparably gifted writer.

Review: Quarantine has been hard, but books have been helping me get through. And I’m very thankful that Stephen King happened to have his new book “If It Bleeds” arrive right when I was most needing a helping of my favorite author. True, short stories collections are things that I tend to be wary of, but King hasn’t failed me yet, so I jumped into this collection of four novellas without much trepidation. For me, King’s works and adaptations are like pancakes. Even when they aren’t as good, they’re still pretty enjoyable.

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Me during this Stephen King New Golden Age of Content. (source)

“If It Bleeds” is a collection of thriller and horror tales, the tried and true genres that King does best. I’m going to talk about all four, and then try to pull it all back together at the end. Bear with me, as this may get long.

“Mr. Harrigan’s Phone”: We start off with an age old story about being careful what you wish for, as well as the wholesome bond between a young man and an elder in the community. Mr. Harrigan is an isolated rich man living in a small town, and he asks a boy named Craig to come read to him every week. Their friendship builds, and eventually Craig gets Mr. Harrigan connected to the Internet world with an iPhone. After Mr. Harrigan dies, Craig will call his phone to hear his voice again, and leave a message when he’s feeling down. But then Craig starts to wonder if he’s getting through to Mr. Harrigan beyond the grave… and what the consequences of that may be. This felt the most like an old school and straight forward Stephen King tale, with ambiguity, a bit of humor, and a coming of age tale laced with a bit of malice. It wasn’t really reinventing the wheel, and it also felt a lot like King’s story “Obits”, but it was a fun enough read.

“The Life of Chuck”: I had to go back and reread this one, as it’s definitely the most experimental of the stories within this collection. It’s not horror, and it’s not thriller. It’s more of a meditation on life, death, and the unknown impacts that our lives, and deaths, have. It was also a difficult one to read during the COVID-19 pandemic, as one of the big themes was about the end of the world. People are dealing with the end of the world, as a man named Chuck is dying in a hospital. We see Chuck’s life in reverse, starting with his death, and ending near the beginning. After reading it a second time I fully grasped what King was doing, and this story was neither scary, nor was it a thriller. It was a very quiet, meditative tale, one that added a more tender edge to this collection.

“If It Bleeds”: This was the story I was most looking forward to, as it brings us back to Holly Gibney, Jerome Robinson, and the world of the “Mr. Mercedes” Trilogy and “The Outsider”. Holly has been a top tier King character of mine ever since her debut in “Mr. Mercedes”, and seeing how she has grown and flourished through other tales has really been rewarding. So it’s probably no surprise that I greatly enjoyed “If It Bleeds”. After a middle school is bombed in a supposed terrorist attack, Holly starts to fixate on a good samaritan on the scene. This leans more towards “The Outsider” than the Bill Hodges Trilogy in terms of genre, but it still reads like a thriller at the heart of it, even Holly is once again after something supernatural. I was admittedly a little nervous that Holly may have a harder time carrying a story on her shoulders, since she does sometimes edge a bit towards King’s idea of a quirky savant. But Holly really has grown and edged out since her first adventure, and seeing her on her own tracking down something malevolent was suspenseful, poignant, and fun. And along with that, both Jerome and Barbara Robinson are back and are given some good things to do. King could keep coming back to all of these characters and I don’t think I’d ever get tired of them.

“Rat”: This felt the most like an old school Stephen King short story, as it has everything I’ve come to expect of that. A troubled writer, a secluded cabin, danger, and a potentially talking rat that can grant a wish at a great cost. Drew is an author who think that he is on the brink of another great novel, and since it’s been awhile since his last hit, he’s desperate to make something of it. He isolates himself in a remote cabin, and begins his work. But when a storm comes through and Drew is felled by illness and isolation, he turns to a talking rat who says that it can guarantee his book will be a hit… if he makes a sacrifice. It’s your usual Faustian deal, but it’s what led up to it that was the most interesting. As a storm rages and illness messes with Drew’s perceptions of reality, you get the suspense and questions as to how sound his mind is in that moment, and if he’s going to ultimately sacrifice everything for his craft. I also liked how King brought in how a marriage can suffer when one person is more dedicated to their own dream and ego than they are to those that care about them.

Overall, “If It Bleeds” was a solid collection from King. None of the stories blew me out of the water, but they all connected with me on one level or another. And right now, I just liked having the familiarity of my favorite author to help me get through.

Rating 8: A well done and comfortable collection of thriller stories, and a new story for a favorite character.

Reader’s Advisory:

“If It Bleeds” is included on the Goodreads list “Crime, Mystery, and Thrillers 2020”, and would fit in on “Great Dark Short Stories”.

Find “If It Bleeds” at your library using WorldCat, or at your local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires”

44077284Book: “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” by Grady Hendrix

Publishing Info: Quirk Books, April 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meet Dracula in this Southern-flavored supernatural thriller set in the ’90s about a women’s book club that must protect its suburban community from a mysterious and handsome stranger who turns out to be a blood-sucking fiend.

Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia’s life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they’re more likely to discuss the FBI’s recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.

But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club’s meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he’s a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she–and her book club–are the only people standing between the monster they’ve invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

While it’s certainly not up there with my favorite vampire movies, I really do have a soft spot for “Fright Night”. The original, not the new one. There’s just something about it that is so cheesy and 80s, but also feels very sinister and menacing. That’s probably because Chris Sarandon’s Jerry Dandrige is so outwardly charming when he’s a literal monster next door. It’s a great example of suburban horror, as suburbs were created so affluent white people could flee the dangerous city to feel safe, when danger is everywhere. Even in the handsome bachelor next door. If you took “Fright Night” and mixed it with “Steel Magnolias”, you would get Grady Hendrix new horror novel, “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires”. It’s no surprise that Hendrix would be the one to make that combination into one of his quirky horror novels, as his offbeat and campy scary stories have true elements of terror. “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” almost dethroned “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” as my favorite of his works. And you guys know how much I love “My Best Friend’s Exorcism”.

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Remember when Marcy Darcy and Prince Humperdink basically boned during an awkward dance sequence? Gosh I love “Fright Night”. (source)

The quirkiness and humor is a bit of a given with Hendrix’s stories, and “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” is no exception. It’s very funny at times, and has it’s tongue planted in cheek, though it does take itself seriously enough to create some legitimate scary moments. Our main character Patricia is an awkward and goodhearted book worm who loves to read tales of the macabre, as her husband is patronizing and her kids take her for granted. So she and her Southern Belle lady friends focus their book club on books about serial killers, murder, and other creepy things. I found Patricia relatable in some ways, mostly her general anxiety and her love of creepy books, and I liked how she is easy to root for, but also has flaws that are deeply human. Her initial encounter with James, the new neighbor, is right out of a horror movie, as she catches him in a trance of some sorts and his reaction is basically to scare her to death. But Patricia’s been raised in a culture (Southern, white, 1990s) in which she is more inclined to doubt herself and her own perceptions of James when he comes by later and just seems so nice, and so gregarious, and takes interest in her and her interests when her family does not. In fact, in contention for biggest SOBs up against James the vampire (more on him in a bit) were the husbands of the book club members, as they ranged from patronizing and gaslighting asshats like Patricia’s husband Carter to actual spousal abusers. And once Patricia starts to question if James is more dangerous than he seems, the men in the story are more inclined to believe the new man in town over their wives and any suspicions that they may have. It’s a tale as old as time, and it added an entire layer of suspense to this book that made my blood boil and had me concerned for Patricia. 

The vampire mythos that Hendrix has created for this story is centered around James, the deadly but enticing neighbor. Hendrix has created an original set of vampire rules for James, some of which are rooted in various folklores and some that feel totally original. Like Chris Sarandon in “Fright Night”, he’s the perfect villain because he just seems so wonderful, when he’s actually a vampire that is killing children in an impoverished part of town that is mostly black people. While some of the ways that Hendrix took on this part of the story felt a little clunky when it came to the racial issues at hand, I did appreciate that he wanted to talk about the fact that, indeed, in a situation like this the greater community of Charleston probably wouldn’t notice or care too much if these were the people being victimized. And he doesn’t spare Patricia and her book club friends from criticism in this way, as they are taken to task for their places of privilege in relation to the people that James uses as initial victims. 

I did have one big hang up with this book, however, and this is what knocked it down from a serious contender for top Hendrix novel. This is a mild spoiler, just to get that out there. There is a moment in this book that involves the implied rape of one of the characters, and the fallout thereafter. This moment was used as a way to up the stakes within the story, and I am so very sick of authors using rape in that way. There were plenty of other ways that Hendrix could have really reiterated how dangerous the situation had become, so to be like ‘ah, I’ll just use rape for that’ is something I am completely sick of. We can do better.

Overall, I thought that “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” was a very fun and entertaining read. Grady Hendrix has once again written a scary and funny horror novel, and I am happy he continues his streak of cheeky horror triumphs.

Rating 8: An original, eerie, and deeply funny vampire story from the master of quirky and cheeky horror, “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying” is both scary and amusing!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying” is included on the Goodreads list “2020 Horror to Scream For”.

Find “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Vampire Slaying” at your library using WorldCat!