Review: Stargazers by L.P. Hernandez

Buy it Here:

Amazon

Synopsis:

Don’t read with the lights on…this is My Dark Library.

A collection of novellas curated by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann to represent her favorite themes, tropes, and subgenres in horror fiction today.

Book One: STARGAZERS
It began with a forum post titled “My Neighbor Has Been Staring at the Moon for Hours.” Dismissed as a poor attempt at fiction, other accounts soon joined, describing family members and neighbors gazing open-mouthed at the stars throughout the night. As the sun rises, the Stargazers are changed. Some gather in groups, some destroy, and some kill.


The unfolding chaos is familiar for war veteran, now father, Henry Sylva. As the city crumbles from its center, he relies on old instincts to save his family. But the enemy is all around, Stargazers and human monsters alike.


As Henry battles for survival a dwindling online community documents civilization’s end. A new beginning, perhaps, for what is to come.

Review:

L.P Hernandez’s novella Stargazers is the first in the My Dark Library Series curated by Sadie Hartmann and released by Cemetery Gates Media. This is also a novella that will make me want to read more in this series and anything I can find by L.P. Hernandez.

The story starts with an internet forum post about a neighbor who has been staring at the sky, head back, mouth open, for hours. People reply on the post like this is a CreepyPasta type, fictional story and not a very good one. The truth is that this is not a fictional account, but a real phenomenon that is starting to happen across the globe. While people start by staring at the night sky, the next step is to journey toward a particular spot, heading in mass, like they are in a trance. Some of them are naked, some of them are crawling on broken legs, some of them are dying on their journey, but nothing can stop them. In the middle of this is Henry, a veteran with severe PTSD and his wife and daughter. They know they have to move away from all of this, to a place of safety. Not only is it a novella about the havoc the stargazers are creating, but the havoc of what PTSD can create on an individual, especially when Henry feels like his family is being threatened. 


Stargazers does a great job balancing between a story that is heartfelt and emotional and a purely terrifying horror novella. I love some of the gaps we receive; we don’t know what started all of this, nor does it really matter. There are some of the internet forum posts that are the best because they show how other people are dealing with the same thing as Henry and his family, how the phenomenon is changing everyone. This does not distract from the main story but enhances it, gives us some breaks when they are needed because there is some serious gore. This phenomenon also brings out the worst in some people. The whole structure enhances the world that L.P. Hernandez is building in such a short book. He lets us know that everyone is trapped in the same nightmare, good and bad. I enjoyed every part of this, and I will be looking out for his next release.

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Review: Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez

Where to Buy:

Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

From the critically acclaimed author of “The Last of Her Kind”, a breakout novel that imagines the aftermath of pandemic flu, as seen through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old boy uncertain of his destiny.

His family’s sole survivor after a flu pandemic has killed large numbers of people worldwide, Cole Vining is lucky to have found refuge with the evangelical Pastor Wyatt and his wife in a small town in southern Indiana. As the world outside has grown increasingly anarchic, Salvation City has been spared much of the devastation, and its residents have renewed their preparations for the Rapture.

Grateful for the shelter and love of his foster family (and relieved to have been saved from the horrid, overrun orphanages that have sprung up around the country), Cole begins to form relationships within the larger community. But despite his affection for this place, he struggles with memories of the very different world in which he was reared. Is there room to love both Wyatt and his parents? Are they still his parents if they are no longer there? As others around him grow increasingly fixated on the hope of salvation and the new life to come through the imminent Rapture, Cole begins to conceive of a different future for himself, one in which his own dreams of heroism seem within reach.

Written in Sigrid Nunez’s deceptively simple style, “Salvation City” is a story of love, betrayal, and forgiveness, weaving the deeply affecting story of a young boy’s transformation with a profound meditation on the meaning of belief and heroism.

Review:

When Salvation City came out in 2010, I borrowed the book from the library and read the first quarter of it before it was due back. I remembered the title, the cover, the author, and that I had liked what I read, but nothing about it. When I found a used copy at Half Price Books, I decided it was time to get back into it. It’s about things that I love, post-apocalyptic worlds, small town religion, and of course it is set in Indiana. Even with all of these pluses, I am left feeling underwhelmed about the novel.

Salvation City is the coming-of-age story about Cole Vining, a thirteen year old who woke up after having a flu that is killing hundreds of thousands of people to learn that his mother and father had both died from this flu. He is an orphan until he is adopted by regionally popular preacher, PW and his wife, Tracy. Cole grows up knowing that they are doing their best within their system of beliefs and he does his best to follow their rules and fit into his new family. As he grows older, he has to come to terms about what his life means and what he plans to do with this future. In the novel, he sees that every adult is human and make mistakes. They let him down, and he realizes toward the end that his role models are not going to be the people who are gone or the people who are currently present in his life because they are all stuck in their own feelings and agendas.

This story is not one that I loved but I did not hate it either. I feel pretty lukewarm about the whole experience. I do like that Nunez wrote this novel in 2010 and did a pretty good job at predicting the way that America would deal with a pandemic ten years later. I saw a great deal of the same things that she described happening during the Covid lockdown, and it seems like she has a good pulse on the way that America and Americans think about things. Many of the characters are well-written and the scenes are very well constructed, but I did not feel much interest in any of them. The end result is an interesting book that will be easily forgettable. 

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Review: Beach Bodies by Nick Kolakowski

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Amazon

Synopsis:

This billionaire’s luxury doomsday bunker has everything: spectacular ocean views, a full-service kitchen, three bedrooms, a broadband connection, and concrete thick enough to keep any kind of horror out.

Today, the bunker’s caretakers are about to discover those concrete walls are good—too good—at keeping them trapped with the horrors inside. Twenty feet below the world’s most beautiful beach, they’ll face the ultimate evil—one that transcends death itself.

Review:

Nick Kolakowski reached out to me and asked if I would review his new novella, Beach Bodies. I received this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Beach Bodies is a fast paced novella that I read in one sitting. The story opens with Julia house-sitting for a billionaire in a house that has all of the amenities but is like a bunker. When her friend Alec needs a place to stay after getting shot in Kiev, she lets him lie on the couch of this house, nursing his wounds and eating all of the snacks. This house seems to be computer operated, with a disembodied voice that tells Julia what needs to be done in the house. This includes going outside and chasing off three interlopers who have come within the boundaries of the property.

This does not go well for anyone. Julia and Alec are in danger from the very beginning, but they do not know how the three strangers will change their lives. The whole story feels very claustrophobic, like bad things can happen in a very small room at any moment. Even though the house is large and a fortress, as soon as the two people turn into five, there is not enough room for any of them. The desperation of Julia, knowing that not only is she in a house with dangerous strangers but also isolated from everyone on an island, quickly turns her focus into her struggle for survival. 

Any home invasion story is frightening to us because we all have a home, and the idea of someone rushing in to take over is a very scary situation. Even though they are both visitors in a house, Julia and Alec’s feeling of violation is still there, and we can still feel it with every turning page. The end is very unexpected, but the entire novella keeps the reader guessing. In this case it is a great thing. I read and reviewed another of Kolakowski’s novellas, Absolute Unit, and I can see how much his storytelling has grown. He is on the cusp of a breakout hit book, and this could very well be the one.

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Review: Getaway by Zoje Stage

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Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

It was supposed to be the perfect week away… Imogen and Beck, two sisters who couldn’t be more different, have been friends with Tilda since high school. Once inseparable, over two decades the women have grown apart. But after Imogen survives a traumatic attack, Beck suggests they all reunite to hike deep into the Grand Canyon’s backcountry. A week away, secluded in nature… surely it’s just what they need.

But as the terrain grows tougher, tensions from their shared past bubble up. And when supplies begin to disappear, it becomes clear secrets aren’t the only thing they’re being stalked by. As friendship and survival collide with an unspeakable evil, Getaway becomes another riveting thriller from a growing master of suspense and “a literary horror writer on the rise” (BookPage).

Review:

I have been a fan of Zoje Stage since Baby Teeth, so I was excited to start reading Getaway. The story is about two sisters and their best friend reuniting after drifting apart years earlier to go on a week long hike into the Grand Canyon. This seems like a pretty boring premise, and for the first bit, it is not the most exciting book. There is a great amount of hiking and camping and walking and not much action. I did not know where this was going, but when it took a turn, I found myself gripped with the intensity of the situation. Maybe it is because I have heard stories from other campers and backpackers who have literally almost died in the Grand Canyon. I was listening to a podcast a few months ago that focuses on ultramarathon running. One of the guests told the story about how she went to hike in the Grand Canyon and underestimated it, to the point where they had to get some park rangers to help her get out. She says that she hiked and ran hundred mile races all over America, and even though she watched YouTube videos and studied maps, she still underestimated what hiking through the canyon is like. Maybe this true story put me in the mindset that these three women were in danger from the beginning simply because of the adventure they chose. After they were hiking the first two days, I wondered what kind of danger they were hiking toward. 


The truth is that this book felt tense to me the entire time. I knew something was always just around the corner, and most of the third act, I wondered how deep they were going to be pushed into the canyon by their desperation. The main character, Imogen, is the biggest focus and the other two characters really suffer for this. I did not feel very close to the other two women, and how they perceived the danger they were feeling because their perspectives were not presented. It might have been more successful as a third person with alternating perspectives instead of solely being focused on Imogen. Also the reasoning for the trip kind of gets lost in the plot. There are a few moments where they are confronting one another by the events in their past, but most of this is very soft compared to the rest of the story. The resolution between the three women seems more like a bonding over the trip than the actual forgiveness of the past.

Even with these flaws, Getaway is lush and gorgeous, and I do love the way that Stage constructs the story, making the tension so fierce that I could not stop reading it. I did not plan to read this entire novel in two days, but I had forgotten how great Zoje Stage is at painting the picture and pulling us into the story. I remember being pulled into Baby Teeth in the same way. I do feel like it is not a good as this first novel, but I did enjoy Getaway because of the writing and the tension that is created. The people who will really love this are people who have hiked these trails and camped in the Grand Canyon because they understand that the whole idea of the trip has an element of danger to it from the very beginning.

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Review: Little Bird by Tiffany Meuret

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Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

The skeletons in the closet have nothing on the one in your backyard.
Freshly divorced and grieving the death of her father, Josie Lauer has caged herself inside her home. To cope with her losses, Josie follows a strict daily routine of work, playing with her dog, Po, and trying to remember to eat a decent meal—and ending each night by drinking copious amounts of vodka. In other words, she is not coping at all.


Everything changes when Josie wakes to find a small shrub has sprouted in her otherwise dirt backyard the morning after yet another bender. Within hours, the vine-like plant is running amok—and it’s brought company. The appearance of the unwieldly growth has also heralded the arrival of a busybody new neighbor who insists on thrusting herself into Josie’s life. The neighbor Josie can deal with. The talking skeleton called Skelly that has perched itself in Josie’s backyard on a throne made of vines, however, is an entirely different matter.


As the strangely sentient plant continues to grow and twist its tendrils inside Josie’s suddenly complicated life, Josie begins to realize her new neighbor knows a lot more about the vines and her bizarre new visitor than she initially lets on. There’s a reason Skelly has chosen to appear in Josie’s suddenly-blooming backyard and insists on pulling her out of her carefully kept self-isolation. All Josie has to do is figure out what that reason is—and she has only a few days to do it, or else she might find herself on the wrong side of catastrophe.


LITTLE BIRD is a story about found family, no matter how bizarre.

Review:

Josie lives alone with her dog Po. She has isolated herself from the world, works in a job where she writes emails for clients who need someone to email in a way that smooths over some sort of gaffe, and she drinks herself into oblivion with cheap vodka every night. She avoids her mother. She does not care for any of her neighbors. She is less than enthused to see Sue moving into the rental next door, and she hopes that this lady will leave her alone and move on quicker than the last tenant. With the arrival of this neighbor, vines start to appear in her grass-free backyard. Soon this neighbor, these vines, and a talking skeleton in the backyard take over her life.

I really like the first half of this book. The setup and the character development are very well done, and it is pretty exciting watching Josie squirm under the intrusions into her life. The second half gets to the bottom of the reasons why Josie is the way that she is, and there are some great, quotable sentences, but it is much more philosophical and meditative than the first half. This is not to say that the second half is not good; the second half book does not have the same momentum and whimsy that started in the first half. 

I like the characters and the writing in Little Bird. This definitely feels like a character journey type book, where Josie learns more awareness of how the things she does impacts the world, regardless of whether or not she feels like she is being impactful. The way she feels about the things that she has lost and the way that she copes with her losses are not only affecting her, but they have an effect on everyone around her. Even if most of the world is through her computer and her physical interactions are minimal, there are ways that she disrupts the world. This story embraces that lesson and Josie is not interested in hearing any of it. As a whole the story of Little Bird is well written and interesting, and it gives you some ideas on self-awareness that will make you think long after the story is over. 

I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Return of the Living Elves by Brian Asman

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Author Website

Synopsis:

When Christmas supply warehouse manager Jimmy tries to help new employee Tommy find a last-minute gift for his girlfriend, they accidentally unleash a long-forgotten and very seasonal genetic experiment with a taste for human flesh. As elf-zombie hybrids take over the small town of Pine Canyon, California, Jimmy fights to survive alongside a Christpunk named Landfill, and a mysterious, PTSD-stricken soldier. Hold onto your stockings because the goddamn elves are back, baby!

“This Yuletide-themed homage to one of the greatest zombie films ever made is a rollicking good time. Brian Asman delivers laughs and gory thrills galore in a book sure to put you in the holiday spirit–if you don’t get disemboweled first. Eat the fruitcake and take the ride.” –Bryan Smith, author of 68 Kill

“With ‘Return of the Living Elves,’ Brian Asman shows he’s the funniest, goriest, scariest comedy-horror creator this side of James Gunn. If you loved ‘Man, F*ck This House’ (and you should love ‘Man, F*ck This House’), you’re going to absolutely flip for this one.”- Nick Kolakowski, author of Absolute Unit and Love & Bullets 

Review:

When The Brian Asman reaches out and asks if you are interested in reviewing his new Christmas novella, Return of the Living Dead, the only appropriate answer is “Heck Yeah!” I received this novella from the author in exchange for an honest review. 

I have reviewed every Brian Asman book, and I can say the best part about reading his books is that he never does the same thing twice. His last novella, Man, Fuck this House, has become an internet sensation, and is part ghost story, part kaiju story. Nunchuck City is an action story inspired by video games like Double Dragon and Streets of Rage. Jailbroke is a sci-fi story about robots who have found consciousness. His first novella, I’m Not Even Supposed to Be Here Today, about the accidental summoning of a demon who looks a lot like Kevin Smith, is the closest to Return of the Living Elves, but this is only because both of them are more horror titles than any of his other books.

I really do not have to go into any description but Return of the Living Elves is a Christmas twist on The Return of the Living Dead. That should be enough to entice any reader. Over the years, I had only seen bits and pieces of The Return of the Living Dead, but I had never watched the entire thing at one time until I was preparing to read this novella. I had definitely missed out on a great schlocky 80s horror movie. When I started reading this novella with the movie fresh in my mind, I could see the same beats in the opening. This made me fall into the plot quicker than if I had not watched the movie before I started reading. I loved all of the twists that Asman put into the plot to make it all about Christmas. 

The humor and puns are the best thing about Brian Asman’s writing. He writes funny and clever characters, scenes, and dialogue. His transformation of The Return of the Living Dead into a Christmas story, but also adding a deeper layer of Christmas and Santa Claus lore, makes this more than just a beat for beat rewriting of the movie. The best parts of this are the times he twists away from the plot of the movie just enough for us to see how relentlessly funny Asman is. 


I cannot be a big enough fan of Brian Asman and his books. Even though I never know what type of book he is going to write next, I do know it is going to be funny, clever, and worth recommending to all of my friends. Return of the Living Elves is no different. The only thing that I would suggest is to watch The Return of the Living Dead before you read the book, because having the movie and characters fresh in your mind enhances the entire experience.

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Review: The Sluts by Dennis Cooper

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Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

Set largely on the pages of a website where gay male escorts are reviewed by their clients, and told through the postings, emails, and conversations of several dozen unreliable narrators, The Sluts chronicles the evolution of one young escort’s date with a satisfied client into a metafiction of pornography, lies, half-truths, and myth. Explicit, shocking, comical, and displaying the author’s signature flair for blending structural complexity with direct, stylish, accessible language, The Sluts is Cooper’s most transgressive novel since Frisk, and one of his most innovative works of fiction to date.

Review:

Oh Boy.

I have been repeatedly hearing for the past few months about The Sluts and everyone who reads it, loves it. Written in an epistolary style, mostly through chat rooms and emails, The Sluts tells the story of Brad, a young prostitute, and Brian, a person who has a toxic relationship with him. But Brad might be an old ex-porn star, Brian might be a killer, and all of the reviews and posts on an online forum where the Brad and Brian saga unfolds might all be fake. This kind of feels like the movie Rashomon, where the same event is told in four different ways by four different eye witnesses. Except some of the narrators here might not have seen Brad or Brian at all. They might be making up parts of the story for amusement. Or not. The unreliable telling of the story of Brad makes the other characters who reads these web postings obsessed with him, either to have sex with him or kill him.

As the novel progresses, it grows darker and darker. The story of Brad, who eventually might not even be Brad, and Brian, who eventually might not even be Brian, becomes a story of violent sex, torture, mutilation, and death. The story spirals so far down into the pits of ugliness and ruthlessness that some of it becomes difficult to read. There are extreme horror books out there that are supposed to make you feel sick, and I have read and reviewed some of them, but nothing really matches The Sluts. The depravity, not only of the main participants, but also those around them, cheering them on and encouraging this poor behavior, makes me wonder if anyone has good intentions. In the end, the answer is no. 

I read this book in one day. I could not put it down. Dennis Cooper uses simple strong language to pull up in and never let go. Even when he switches the formatting, from reviews on an escort site to emails sent back and forth, there is no letting up. This novel feels like we are trapped in a car and the brake lines have been cut and we are going faster and faster toward a brick wall, and Dennis Cooper is standing there next to the wall, shrugging his shoulders, saying, “There’s nothing I can do about it.” I honestly have never been terrified by a book like this book. If you are someone who enjoys the extreme and stories of how dangerous people can be, do not hesitate to read The Sluts. 

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Review: A Sliver of Darkness by C.J. Tudor

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Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

The debut short story collection from the acclaimed author of The Chalk Man, featuring ten bone-chilling and mind-bending tales

Timeslips. Doomsday scenarios. Killer butterflies. C. J. Tudor’s novels are widely acclaimed for their dark, twisty suspense plots, but with A Sliver of Darkness, she pulls us even further into her dizzying imagination.

In Final Course, the world has descended into darkness, but a group of old friends make time for one last dinner party. In Runaway Blues, thwarted love, revenge, and something very nasty stowed in a hat box converge. In Gloria, a strange girl at a service station endears herself to a cold-hearted killer, but can a leopard really change its spots? And in I’m Not Ted, a case of mistaken identity has unforeseen, fatal consequences.

Riveting and explosively original, A Sliver of Darkness is C. J. Tudor at her most wicked and uninhibited.

Review:

Since 2018, C.J. Tudor has released a new novel every year. I have heard really good things about her last novel, The Burning Girls, but I had not read it. As she notes at the beginning of A Sliver of Darkness, her novel for this year just was not working right so as an emergency move, Tudor decided to release this collection of short stories. Writing short stories is much different than writing a novel. You have to build characters, setting, tension, and plot in a much smaller space. Some authors can really pull off both forms, but some excel in one form or another. I do not have any of Tudor’s long works to compare her short stories to, but I feel like she might be a little better at writing novels than short stories. 

I say this on the strengths of this collection. The three stories that really stick out for me, that are the most developed and have the best story are also the three longest. The book opens with “End of the Liner”, a story about the end of the world and the only population still alive are on cruise ships. This world building and plot are fantastic, and this is a five-star story. I love every minute of it, and if there were any of these stories that I would read again as a novel form, this would be the one I would be most excited about reading. “Final Course” is the second best story. Another apocalypse story, the world has gone dark, and Tom and his daughter are invited to a dinner party with some old schoolmates. When they get there, nothing is as it seems, and the scene unravels quickly. “Butterfly Island”, the last story in this collection, is about a group of people who travel to an uninhabited island and get more than they bargained for. All three of these stories have the end of the world as a theme, and it is interesting the differences that C.J. Tudor uses with each apocalypse. 

This is not the say that the rest of the stories in A Sliver of Darkness are bad. I enjoyed all of them to some degree, but the longer ones seem to show off Tudor’s writing strengths more than the shorter pieces. All of them are pretty good, even the very short ones like “Copy Shop”, but as a whole, this collection makes me more interested in catching up on Tudor’s novels than anything. If they are nearly as good as “End of the Liner” then I am in for a treat. This is a good introduction to Tudor’s work, but her fans might enjoy this more than those who are reading her for the first time. 

I received this as an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: We Had to Remove This Post by Hanna Bervoets

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Synopsis:

For readers of Leila Slimani’s The Perfect Nanny or Ling Ma’s Severance: a tight, propulsive, chilling novel by a rising international star about a group of young colleagues working as social media content monitors—reviewers of violent or illegal videos for an unnamed megacorporation—who convince themselves they’re in control . . . until the violence strikes closer to home.

Kayleigh needs money. That’s why she takes a job as a content moderator for a social media platform whose name she isn’t allowed to mention. Her job: reviewing offensive videos and pictures, rants and conspiracy theories, and deciding which need to be removed. It’s grueling work. Kayleigh and her colleagues spend all day watching horrors and hate on their screens, evaluating them with the platform’s ever-changing terms of service while a supervisor sits behind them, timing and scoring their assessments. Yet Kayleigh finds a group of friends, even a new love—and, somehow, the job starts to feel okay.

But when her colleagues begin to break down; when Sigrid, her new girlfriend, grows increasingly distant and fragile; when her friends start espousing the very conspiracy theories they’re meant to be evaluating; Kayleigh begins to wonder if the job may be too much for them. She’s still totally fine, though—or is she?

Review:

We Had to Remove This Post has been suggested to me several times in various places, and honestly I thought these suggestions were right. The story is about Kayleigh who works for a company that screens social media content for decency. The first line of the novella, “So what kinds of things did you see?” is really what I was wanting to know when the book started. For some reason, I expected there to be descriptions of horrible internet stuff and a plot about really damaged people who have to deal with the mental strain of watching hours of these types of videos for work. What I read was not quite close enough to expectations.

When we first meet Kayleigh, she is starting the job watching videos because she needs money. She becomes friends with her coworkers, and they go out drinking almost every night after work, mostly because there is nothing that can describe what they were feeling after a long day of watching terrible internet content. They are destined to be friends outside of work because nobody besides one another will understand what happens in the videos that the public does not see. This also makes this group of coworkers act in ways that they don’t exactly always know they are doing. The focus of the book is more about the workers than the content. There is psychological damage and jagged breaks from reality when a person watches so much violence, hate, gore, and ugliness, that he cannot help but be affected, even if he doesn’t realize it. 

Hanna Bervoets is a popular author in the Netherlands, and this is her first book translated into English. I have read a few other Dutch novels, particularly those written by Maria Dermout and Herman Koch, and there seems to be a weird vibe that Dutch literature seems to possess. It is almost like no matter how cheery the story, there is an undercurrent of filth that is alluded to but not explained. Bervoets lets us know from the beginning that there is no cheer to be found here. She does this with the original question, “so what kinds of things did you see?” Even without many passages about the gore and violence, the true answer to that question lies in the actions of Kayleigh and her coworkers. This makes real life these characters are living more devastating than anything they screen that is submitted to a social media site.

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Review: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Where to Buy:

Amazon, Bookshop

Synopsis:

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:

I have several confessions when it comes to reading, and my relationship to Grady Hendrix novels is one of them. I have every book he has released, I have listened to him in multiple interviews, follow him on social media, can recognize him in any photo, and I had not read a single one of his books. I pulled The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires from the thousands of books in my TBR pile because I had just bought the paperback a week or two ago, and since it was a thicker than many of the others, I wanted to free shelf space. This is how I finally a Grady Hendrix novel. 

The story starts in 1988 when Patricia Campbell joins a book club to =socialize with her neighbor ladies in a South Carolina town. When the book club switches from reading classic literature to reading true crime and classic horror, her friendships grow, and it becomes the thing that helps her live and thrive as a Southern housewife with two rambunctious kids and a husband who is at work all of the time. Her book club life and the life of the neighborhood changes when the mysterious stranger, James Harris, shows up and becomes a friend of the family. Patricia has clues that something is just not right with James, but her suspicions are chalked up to her reading crime novels and gossiping about “good men”. Of course she is right all along. 

The way The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires unfolds is that it becomes several intertwined parts and harks to a strong tradition of stories about white neighbors in white neighborhoods where people write down the license plate numbers of any strange vehicle and find it rude when someone does not welcome them into their home. The setting and the feeling of this novel reminds me of some of the great southern classic literature like To Kill A Mockingbird or A Heart is a Lonely Hunter. The horror parts of this story feels like a throwback to old Stephen King, from the 80s and 90s, particularly ‘Salems Lot and Needful Things, where it is an entire town that is in danger, but only a few people see this and are trying to stop it. In this case, it is the ladies from a book club. Mixing these two elements makes for a novel that I really enjoy, and I can see as a great new classic in Southern and town horror novels.

I tore through this novel in only a few days, reading huge chucks at a time. To me this feels like a true throwback horror novel, like it could have been written in the 80s or 90s. Like all horror at the time, this story is good even though it is a little clunky, a little disturbing, and a little coincidental. In the end, the final solution is oddly satisfying. I like the structure, the characters, and that I could feel the danger that James Harris imposes on the town that the men are too stupid to see but the women are keen to. Some of the scenes could be a little too much for readers that have child harm triggers, but if this is something you can get past, I suggest that you do not hesitate like I have. I will not be sleeping on Grady Hendrix anymore, and I am putting his other novels to the top of my TBR pile.

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