Book Review: The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

Title: The Final Girl Support Group
Author: Grady Hendrix
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: July 13, 2021
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A fast-paced, thrilling horror novel that follows a group of heroines to die for, from the brilliant New York Times bestselling author of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires.

In horror movies, the final girl is the one who’s left standing when the credits roll. The one who fought back, defeated the killer, and avenged her friends. The one who emerges bloodied but victorious. But after the sirens fade and the audience moves on, what happens to her?

Lynnette Tarkington is a real-life final girl who survived a massacre twenty-two years ago, and it has defined every day of her life since. And she’s not alone. For more than a decade she’s been meeting with five other actual final girls and their therapist in a support group for those who survived the unthinkable, putting their lives back together, piece by piece. That is until one of the women misses a meeting and Lynnette’s worst fears are realized–someone knows about the group and is determined to take their lives apart again, piece by piece.

But the thing about these final girls is that they have each other now, and no matter how bad the odds, how dark the night, how sharp the knife, they will never, ever give up.

The Final Girl Support Group is set in our contemporary world, but with one key change: Remember all those slasher movies of the 80s and 90s? The ones where seemingly unstoppable madmen stalk groups of victims through the woods or at summer camps, using increasingly bizarre weapons to kill and kill and kill? In the world of The Final Girl Support Group, those movies are film adaptations of real-life murder sprees. The surviving Final Girl of each horrific act of murder sells her franchise rights, and the film versions make them into pop culture superstars… and highly scrutinized attractions for all sorts of stalkers and murder fans and other dangerous folks.

As the book opens, the support group is meeting, although after 16 years, it’s unclear to some of the members why they continue to meet. Nothing changes, and they devolve into bickering, yet they all need the group in their lives. For the women in the group, their lives after their incidents have taken different paths, yet none can be said to be truly healthy or normal. One woman is a junkie, one married for wealth and lives a pampered life surrounded by security walls and cameras, one, confined to a wheelchair, is a political activist, and our narrator Lynnette lives a life of absolute paranoia and devotion to safety. Only Dani, living in a long-term relationship on a remote ranch, and Adrienne, who runs a camp for victims of violence at the same site where she was once a Final Girl, seem to be anywhere close to living truly fulfilled lives.

When Adrienne fails to show for group the day after news coverage shows a new massacre at her camp, the group is fearful and soon learns the worst — Adrienne has been tracked down and murdered. They all flee, each seeking some form of safety. For Lynnette, she knows in her bones that nowhere is truly safe. She has countless escape routes and backup plans, but when all fail her, she has to go on the run and start to rely on people besides herself, something she’s never been willing to do.

The Final Girl Support Group is a horror story in which we learn, in bits and pieces, about the horrific scenes of violence that each of these women survived as young girls. It’s also a story of escape, with a road trip thrown in, and a story of friendship and connection, as this group of women — who have only their victimhood in common — are thrown together despite mistrust and even outright dislike to try to defeat the ultimate bad guy.

I tore through the book pretty quickly, but I’m not sure that it truly worked for me. The story is somewhat disjointed — we learn about each woman’s particular horror story over the course of the novel, but having the details doled out as they were kept me from truly understanding their experiences as we meet them. I never felt particularly connected to some of the characters, and actually found it confusing to keep them all and their particular traumas straight.

Lynnette is fascinating, although being inside her mind can be exhausting. I wish we’d learned more about her awful history earlier in the book as well. There seem to be a lot of barriers before I could feel like I had a good grasp on who she is and, more importantly, what happened to make her the way she is.

The book includes media snippets in between chapters, talking about the Final Girl movie phenomenon or including excerpts of articles about the girls or pieces of their police interrogations. These are fun, but again, something about the pacing and the way information is included made the overall narrative feel confusing to me.

I did really like the overall concept — that slasher movies are basically depictions of real events, and that certain franchises get sequels because in their real lives, the bad guys keep coming back, over and over and over. For a Final Girl, it’s never really over.

The Final Girl Support Group builds to a fast-paced, dramatic sequel that feels worthy of a scary slasher movie scene all its own.

I’ve read most of Grady Hendrix’s other novels (there just one I still need to read!), and I’ve loved them all so far. He writes bizarre, quirky, weird horror, and it’s usually right up my alley. The Final Girl Support Group didn’t quite work for me the same way his other books have. I got caught up in the story, but always felt like I was missing something. I recommend it, but not quite as much as, for example, Horrorstor or The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires.

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Shelf Control #213: We Sold Our Souls by Grady Hendrix

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.pngTitle: We Sold Our Souls
Author: Grady Hendrix
Published: 2018
Length: 337 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In the 1990s, heavy metal band Dürt Würk was poised for breakout success — but then lead singer Terry Hunt embarked on a solo career and rocketed to stardom as Koffin, leaving his fellow bandmates to rot in rural Pennsylvania.

Two decades later, former guitarist Kris Pulaski works as the night manager of a Best Western – she’s tired, broke, and unhappy. Everything changes when she discovers a shocking secret from her heavy metal past: Turns out that Terry’s meteoric rise to success may have come at the price of Kris’s very soul.

This revelation prompts Kris to hit the road, reunite with the rest of her bandmates, and confront the man who ruined her life. It’s a journey that will take her from the Pennsylvania rust belt to a Satanic rehab center and finally to a Las Vegas music festival that’s darker than any Mordor Tolkien could imagine. A furious power ballad about never giving up, even in the face of overwhelming odds, We Sold Our Souls is an epic journey into the heart of a conspiracy-crazed, paranoid country that seems to have lost its very soul…where only a girl with a guitar can save us all.

How and when I got it:

I bought it as a new release in 2018.

Why I want to read it:

If you happened to stumble across my blog earlier this week, you may have seen my review of Grady Hendrix’s newest book, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. I loved it, just like I’ve loved everything I’ve read by this author. And even though I bought a copy of We Sold Our Souls, I just never got around to reading it — maybe the heavy metal theme turned me off a bit, but for whatever reason, it’s still there on my shelf, unread. And that just won’t do.

Grady Hendrix’s book are always unique and strange and thoroughly entertaining. I’ve heard this one is great! Clearly, I have to fill in the gap in my reading by getting to this book ASAP.

What do you think? Would you read this book? 

Please share your thoughts!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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

Title: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires
Author: Grady Hendrix
Publisher: Quirk
Publication date: April 7, 2020
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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.

Let me just get this out of the way: I LOVED this book. The setting is perfect, the community and marital dynamics are spot-on, and the creep factor is through the roof. Grady Hendrix does it again!

Here’s the situation: Patricia Campbell lives with her husband and two children in the Old Village, a neighborhood in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina — just across the bridge from Charleston — where everyone knows each other and looks out for one another, where an unknown car is immediately noticed, where no one locks their doors because it’s safe, and anyway, not really in line with standards of Southern hospitality.

[Fun fact: I once lived in Mount Pleasant for a couple of years, a long time ago, so the setting here just thrilled me to bits and pieces.]

The women of Old Village are mothers and housewives, and when Patricia and a few others realize that a “literary” book club isn’t to their taste (i.e., none of them actually read Cry, The Beloved Country and get roundly shamed for it), they form their own club — focused on true crime stories and bestselling thrillers. And they love it. The women bond over Helter Skelter and The Stranger Beside Me, and they also become best of friends.

The community’s placid life is disrupted when Patricia is attacked by her elderly neighbor Ann Savage. It’s brutal and frightening, and results in Patricia’s earlobe being bitten off. Ann dies, but her visiting nephew James Harris decides to stay and settle in the neighborhood — and his appearance starts a chain of strange and eerie events.

Note: The Goodreads blurb (above) describes James Harris as “artistic and sensitive”. He’s not.

Patricia becomes more and more suspicious of James, but he’s quickly insinuated himself into the lives of the families of Old Village, including becoming business partners with most of the husbands, investing with them in a real estate development that promises huge payoffs. And when Patricia tries to sound the alarm after witnessing a horrifying act, her psychiatrist husband treats her like she’s crazy, and then forces her to choose: Either give up this nonsense about James, or give up her marriage and family.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is a horror story, a snapshot of a time and place (1990s upscale South), and a snide commentary on women’s voices and the men who ignore them. The women in this story are all smart, but all subservient to their husbands — all of whom are the providers and the decision-makers. It’s particularly telling that the small, intimate, enjoyable book group gets completely turned upside down once the men decide they need to step in — turning into a gathering of 40+ people, reading Tom Clancy books and completely ignoring the opinions and preferences of the women who actually started it all.

There’s also pretty harsh critique of the insularity of the privileged. So long as the bad things are happening to other people’s children — particularly, to the children of a poor black community — the people of Old Village don’t seem to be too bothered. There’s an “it can’t happen here” attitude that only Patricia seems to have an issue with. For the husbands especially, the deaths and disappearances have nothing to do with their own lives, and in any case, the accusations that Patricia makes sound ridiculous, and perhaps more importantly, could cause problems with their business investment, and well… we can’t have that.

Don’t forget, though, that this is a horror novel, despite the snark and the humor. I like horror, and I don’t have a problem with blood and gore… but that said, there were two scenes in this book that absolutely CREEPED ME THE EFF OUT. I just don’t do well with creepy-crawlies, and these two scenes were intense and GROSS. (Okay, yes, I still loved the book, but HELLO? NIGHTMARE MATERIAL!)

Grady Hendrix does an amazing job of pulling this story together, making the relationships touching and real while also being creepy and scary — and then having the women save the day through their own version of brutal kick-assery. It’s a great read, thoroughly enjoyable… but maybe not for the squeamish.

I have one more of Grady Hendrix’s books on my shelf still to read, but so far, I’ve loved everything of his that I’ve read.

Check out my reviews of his previous books:
Horrorstor
My Best Friend’s Exorcism
Paperbacks from Hell (non-fiction)

Book Review: Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix

Take a tour through the horror paperback novels of the 1970s and ’80s . . . if you dare. Page through dozens and dozens of amazing book covers featuring well-dressed skeletons, evil dolls, and knife-wielding killer crabs! Read shocking plot summaries that invoke devil worship, satanic children, and haunted real estate! Horror author and vintage paperback book collector Grady Hendrix offers killer commentary and witty insight on these trashy thrillers that tried so hard to be the next Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby. It’s an affectionate, nostalgic, and unflinchingly funny celebration of the horror fiction boom of two iconic decades, complete with story summaries and artist and author profiles. You’ll find familiar authors, like V. C. Andrews and R. L. Stine, and many more who’ve faded into obscurity. Plus recommendations for which of these forgotten treasures are well worth your reading time and which should stay buried.

 

A must for horror fans. This book traces the history of all sorts of insane horror trends from the 70s and 80s, and makes some fascinating connections between the crises of the times (inflation, environmental issues, HIV/AIDS) and the rise and fall of horror publishing themes and crazes. The author’s commentary is often snarky and truly funny — but the real highlight of Paperbacks from Hell is the amazing assortment of cheesy, disgusting, disturbing book covers. Some are iconic (Jaws, The Omen, Flowers in the Attic), and some just head-shakingly awful — but put them all together, and it’s a truly entertaining look back at horror’s not-so-distant past.

Take a look at just a small sampling of the amazing books featured in Paperbacks from Hell:

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The details:

Title: Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction
Author: Grady Hendrix
Publisher: Quirk
Publication date: September 19, 2017
Length: 256 pages
Genre: Horror/non-fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Quirk Books

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Book Review: My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

My Best Friends ExorcismThis goofy, spooky, surprisingly touching novel by the author of the amazing Horrorstör (reviewed here; you know, the book that looks like an Ikea catalog!) hit just the right spot for me this week. It’s an entertaining, light read that also contains moments of horror, deeply icky things, and a descent into either madness or evil, depending on how you look at it.

The inside covers and pages at front and back mimic a high school yearbook, and it’s pretty hilarious. We see a combination of silly in-jokes, clueless teacher signatures, and even the standard, meaningless “have a great summer!”.

MBFE takes place in the 1980s, and takes full advantage of the music and clothing to create an air of nostalgia that’s fun and a bit cringe-worthy. E.T. posters and roller rinks and Merit Menthols abound. Kids worry about getting VD, and Geraldo Rivera airs an explosive exposé of satanism.

The best friends of the title are Abby and Gretchen. Abby is from a poor family, but her BFFs are part of the old-money Charleston elite. They attend a ritzy private school (Abby on scholarship), where the student handbook is the Bible. An upright life is expected, although money buys a certain amount of latitude for the more privileged students.

imageAbby and Gretchen have been best friends since fourth grade, and their closest circle includes two more rich girls, Margaret and Glee. They’re all spoiled and lazy (except Abby, who works non-stop to afford the things she can’t expect from her do-nothing parents), and one bored summer evening, something goes wrong. After taking an exploratory hit of acid (which does nothing for any of the girls), Gretchen decides to skinny deep in the river… and disappears into the woods, only to be found the next morning, naked, covered with mud, and offering no explanation for what’s happened.

imageThings get weird. Gretchen withdraws into herself. She stops bathing and changing her clothes. She shuts out her friends and begins to alienate everyone. Abby is the only one who refuses to be pushed away, but when she tried to get help for Gretchen, she ends up shunned herself. And things go from bad to worse, as the people around Gretchen begin to have weird and dangerous and scary developments in their lives.

Author Grady Hendrix nails the gross and disturbing bits, from disgusting smells to suicidal flocks of birds to horrible skin outbreaks. I suppose for teen girls, bad acne could be supposed to be demonic! But beneath the horror elements, there’s also a compelling story about friendship and devotion, and the lengths to which best friends will go to save one another.

The 80s vibe is pitch-perfect, with extra points for excellent use of the Go-Gos and Phil Collins lyrics.

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I read My Best Friend’s Exorcism all in one day, and really just had a great time with it. The grosser, ickier moments are balanced out by Abby’s internal strength and resourcefulness, her dedication to saving Gretchen, and the spot-on depiction of high school cruelty and power plays. The Charleston setting is a nice plus too.

This is a horror spoof, and there’s plenty of humor, but really — take me seriously when I say that if you tend to be squeamish about things like tapeworms, cadaver labs, and horrible skin conditions, you might want to skip this one. But, if you enjoy the horror genre and don’t mind when things get squicky for the sake of a good story, check it out!

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The details:

Title: My Best Friend’s Exorcism
Author: Grady Hendrix
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publication date: May 17, 2016
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of Quirk Books

Book Review: Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

HorrorstorYou’ll be forgiven for mistaking this unusual novel for an Ikea catalog. That’s the whole point, after all.

This square, chunky book features the Swedish design elements we know so well, where pieces of furniture have unpronounceable names and the product is really a lifestyle, not just individual items to buy. Glancing at Horrorstör quickly, you’ll see a floor map of the showroom, a guide to ordering and assembly, and even a job announcement… only the tiniest bit ominous, perhaps:

It’s Not Just a Job.

It’s the Rest of Your Life.

Hmmmm.

Welcome to Horrorstör, and the world of Orsk. Orsk is a US-based company acknowledged to be a cheap knock-off version of Ikea. At Orsk, you can buy a Brooka sofa or a Liripip wardrobe, enjoy meatballs in the cafe and let the children play, then stroll through the market floor, picking up a cart full of impulse buys before finally hitting the registers. The whole point of Orsk is to immerse the consumer, to make the process slightly disorienting, to ensure that no one just comes in and buys a chair, but rather, walks through the entire showroom viewing all the various lifestyles available for purchase.

Main character Amy is a floor partner, showing up each day to her low-paying hourly job, resentfully not quite buying the corporate-speak that is the foundation of the Orsk experience. In her early 20s, Amy is a bit of a mess, with no career plan, no drive, and no money to fall back on. She needs Orsk, even if she doesn’t want to. Her manager, Basil, is the embodiment of everything she hates. He’s drunk the Kool-Aid, and spouts inspirational drivel like “Way to live the ethos, man!”

On the verge of being fired, Amy is instead offered one last chance to prove she has what it takes: Basil needs her to stay at night after closing, along with him and one other Orsk employee. Weird things have been happening overnight in the store — stray acts of vandalism, damaged products — and no one can figure out how. The trio plan to spend the night in the empty Orsk establishment, patrolling the floors and keeping an eye out, with the goal of catching someone in the act and becoming company heroes — and maybe even getting a shot at the next step up the corporate ladder.

Joined by two other Orsk partners, Matt and Trinity, who sneak in to shoot a Ghost Hunters-style video, the night gets off to a bumpy start as Amy spots creepy graffiti in the women’s room and later encounters a rat. And that’s only the beginning. An ill-advised seance unleashes a true influx of terror, and the nightmare begins, full of creeps and horrors galore, and threatening not just the employees’ jobs but also their sanity and even their lives.

A scream ripped through the dark. Ruth Anne’s scream.

This place is tricking you, she reminded herself. That’s what it does does.

Orsk is all about scripted disorientation.

It wants you to surrender to a programmed experience.

Horrorstör starts off as satire, but about midway shifts into truly scary horror. Suddenly, the featured products in the “catalog” shift: No longer just couches and seating units, the products are suddenly reconfigured Orsk items that double as torture devices. Orsk is built on the remains of a horrifying prison run by a deranged warden, and as the penitents come out of the walls to ensnare new prisoners for reform, Amy and the rest are in a fight for survival.

It’s an odd tonal shift, but somehow it works. I’m not sure that I’ll ever look at an Ikea store the same way again. If you enjoy your horror stories with a touch of sarcasm and snark, check out Horrorstör — althought I’d recommend reading it during daylight hours, with a teddy bear to hug and a fully charged cell phone nearby, just in case.

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The details:

Title: Horrorstor
Author: Grady Hendrix
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publication date: September 23, 2014
Length: 256 pages
Genre: Horror/satire
Source: Review copy courtesy of Quirk Books