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: The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt by Andrea Bobotis

Title: The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt
Author: Andrea Bobotis
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: July 9, 2019
Length: 311 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Some bury their secrets close to home. Others scatter them to the wind and hope they land somewhere far away.

Judith Kratt inherited all the Kratt family had to offer—the pie safe, the copper clock, the murder no one talks about. She knows it’s high time to make an inventory of her household and its valuables, but she finds that cataloging the family belongings—as well as their misfortunes—won’t contain her family’s secrets, not when her wayward sister suddenly returns, determined to expose skeletons the Kratts had hoped to take to their graves.

Interweaving the present with chilling flashbacks from one fateful evening in 1929, Judith pieces together the influence of her family on their small South Carolina cotton town, learning that the devastating effects of dark family secrets can last a lifetime and beyond. 

Miss Judith Kratt has lived in the imposing family home in Bound, South Carolina all her life. Now in her mid-70s, she lives contentedly with Olva — an African American woman who seems to be both servant and companion, the two women having spent their entire lives together. Judith has the idea to start an inventory of the house’s objects, all of which seem to hold a piece of the family history.

The Kratt family rose from nothing with Judith’s father, a bully of a man who strong-armed and cheated his way into a fortune in the cotton and mercantile business. He ruled his family and his town with an iron fist, inspiring fear and obedience whever he went.

In alternating chapters, we visit Judith’s memories of her teen years, going back to the fateful year of 1929 when her family’s fortunes changed dramatically.

Meanwhile, in the present of 1989, a local man and his six-year-old daughter take shelter in the Kratt home after being pursued by the grandson of Daddy Kratt’s former business partner. We see the cycles of hate and violence being carried through the generations, as the descendants of the grown-ups from Judith’s childhood still carry their forefathers’ handed-down grudges.

Judith seems odd and standoffish at first, but the more we learn about her childhood, the more her strange life starts to make sense. There are powerful family secrets buried in her and Olva’s pasts, and these secrets are still weighty enough to change lives all these years later.

As Judith makes her inventory, we come to understand the meaning of all the difference objects in her house, and how they relate to the family tragedy. It’s a clever and strangely moving approach to showing the weight of memories, and how those can add up to an entire life defined by the past.

The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt isn’t exactly what I expected, especially based on the book cover (which was what originally caught my eye). The image made me expect a work of historical fiction, maybe 1950s era or thereabouts, about Southern belles and their families. That’s not this book at all, though.

Instead, The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt is about a 15-year-old girl and the older woman she becomes, and the family secrets that shadow her entire life. This book is my book group’s pick for March, and I can wait to hear what everyone else thought and to pick apart the tangled web of secrets with them. Definitely a recommended read!

Shelf Control #136: Home in the Morning by Mary Glickman

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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!

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Title: Home in the Morning
Author: Mary Glickman
Published: 2010
Length: 233 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

A powerful debut from a new literary talent, this novel tells the story of a Jewish family confronting the tumult of the 1960s—and the secrets that bind its members together

Jackson Sassaport is a man who often finds himself in the middle. Whether torn between Stella, his beloved and opinionated Yankee wife, and Katherine Marie, the African American girl who first stole his teenage heart; or between standing up for his beliefs and acquiescing to his prominent Jewish family’s imperative to not stand out in the segregated South, Jackson learns to balance the secrets and deceptions of those around him. But one fateful night in 1960 will make the man in the middle reconsider his obligations to propriety and family, and will start a chain of events that will change his life and the lives of those around him forever.

Home in the Morning follows Jackson’s journey from his childhood as a coddled son of the Old South to his struggle as a young man eager to find his place in the civil rights movement while protecting his family. Flashing back between Jackson’s adult life as a successful lawyer and his youth, Mary Glickman’s riveting novel traces the ways that race and prejudice, family and love intertwine to shape our lives. This ebook features rare photos and never-before-seen documents from the author’s personal collection.

How and when I got it:

I don’t really remember buying this book… but I assume I picked it up at one of the library book sales over the past several years.

Why I want to read it:

The synopsis makes this book sound fascinating — civil rights, a love story, the 1960s, Jewish life in the South. I’m definitely drawn to the description… and I’m glad this book just resurfaced for me during a shelf tidying adventure, because I plan to bump it up the TBR list!

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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!

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Book Review: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

 

Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize that the truth is much darker. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together—in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions—and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or redemption.

Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country—Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.

The story of Before We Were Yours is all the more shocking and heart-breaking when you realize that while the main characters are fictional, the tragedy depicted is all too real.

In this powerful work of historical fiction, we follow the story of 12-year-old Rill, a girl growing up poor but happy on a riverboat with her parents and four younger siblings. But when the children become separated from their parents due to complications of labor and an emergency trip to the hospital, their lives become dark and dangerous. Stolen away by the notorious Georgia Tann, the children are taken to a children’s home, where they’re starved, neglected, and abused before ultimately being adopted out, one by one, to wealthy families who are willing to pay.

In alternating chapters, we follow a modern-day story, as Avery Stafford comes home to South Carolina to support her ill father, a politician from a powerful family. Avery stumbles upon a woman in a nursing home, May Crandall, who seems to have some sort of connection to Avery’s family. What starts as a curiosity for Avery turns into a quest to unravel the mystery of May’s strange tie to Avery’s grandmother, now suffering early stages of dementia. As Avery digs deeper, she begins to see that her family’s hidden past may have intersected with the schemes of Georgia Tann, and Avery must decide if it’s wiser to uncover the truth or let the past stay in the past.

While Avery’s search for answers is interesting, it’s the story of Rill and her sisters and brother that’s truly stunning. The children grow up free and open to adventure, never minding that they’re looked down upon as “river rats”. On board their boat and with their parents, they live in a kingdom of their own. Reading about how this family is torn apart is shocking — it’s amazing how much cruelty was inflicted upon these young children, especially as the story drives home the fact that this happened to thousands of chlidren over a period of more than 20 years.

The mystery of how Avery’s grandmother is connect to May is not revealed until close to the end of the book, and while there are hints along the way, the answer isn’t entirely obvious. Meanwhile, while we see how Rill grew up and changed from the river girl to a woman with a family of her own and a new life, the journey she makes isn’t easy and is no fairy tale. Not all the loose ends are tied up, which is fitting, given that in the historical records of the Georgia Tann scandal, many families never did find their missing children, and many hundreds are believed to have died under the “care” of this awful, twisted adoption industry.

Before We Were Yours is a compelling read, although I was less engaged during the contemporary chapters, particularly when the focus shifted from Avery’s search into family history to dwell more upon Avery’s romantic life and her career choices. Other than that, I found it a quick, fascinating, and terribly sad read.

This was a book group pick, and I’m so glad it was! As with all of my book group’s books, I can’t wait to hear from my bookish friends and to exchange reactions, ideas, and questions.

If you’ve read Before We Were Yours, I’d love to hear your thoughts too!

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The details:

Title: Before We Were Yours
Author: Lisa Wingate
Publisher: Ballantine
Publication date: June 6, 2017
Length: 342 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Library

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