Travel reading wrap-up (fall 2021): A batch of mini-reviews — high school drama, Aztec vampires, and classics retold

I’ve just returned from a one-week trip (which was all sorts of awesome), and realize that I’ve fallen way behind on my reviews. Here’s a quick wrap-up of what I read while I was away (and the week before, when I was already in pre-trip mode). As always, a mix of genres, topics, and new vs old.

Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado: A YA story starring a plus-sized Latina high schooler who dreams of a first kiss, even while feeling like she’ll never measure up. The story emphasizes the importance of true friendship and trust, as well as body positivity. Charlie experiences a first relationship, has her relationship with her best friend tested, gains confidence as a writer, and learns to stand up for herself and not let others’ negativity undermine her belief in herself. While there are some plot points that I found frustrating (such as a mother whose toxicity about Charlie’s weight is never truly resolved, and unnecessary break-ups with both her boyfriend and her best friend), I loved the lead character enough to make this a really enjoyable read overall.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: This is my 3rd book by this author, but it definitely won’t be my last. Certain Dark Things is a gritty, noir-ish story of vampires, gangs, and drug runners in Mexico City. The main character is a teen boy who devotes himself to helping a lone Aztec vampire escape the city and the various other clans of vampires who want to see her and her people wiped out. It’s a fascinating spin on the world of vampires, and while I would have liked to have seen a bit more on the origins and natures of the different vampire species, I still really enjoyed this book. It’s dark, fast-paced, and surprising.


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers: I guess I should have read the full synopsis, instead of deciding after just the first sentence that this book sounded like fun. The main character wakes up alone in a Las Vegas hotel room with a vague, hung-over memory of having married an adorable woman the night before. All she has to go on is a note left by the woman with a radio station listed. Grace decides to track down the mystery woman… but for the most part, despite the potential rom-com set-up, this is a story about a woman trying to find her place in the world, figure out who she’s meant to be, and understand her relationships with family and friends. Maybe because I went into it with incorrect (or incomplete) expectations, I was mostly frustrated and annoyed by the depth’s of the main character’s introspection and occasional selfishness.


Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

When You Were Mine by Rebecca Serle: This YA retelling of Romeo and Juliet offers a fresh perspective — that of Rosaline, the girl Romeo loved before meeting Juliet. Here, the teens are seniors at an upscale California high school. Rose has been looking forward to reuniting with Rob, her best friend and boy next door since they were small children, especially since their near-kiss right before he left for his summer job. But within a few days of school starting, Rob dumps Rose for the new girl in town — the mysterious Juliet, who also happens to be Rose’s cousin. I really liked the way the author turned the classic story into a contemporary YA drama, and found her portrayal of Rose very thoughtful as well as being a creative twist on a tale that’s been told and retold so many times. When You Were Mine follows some, but not all, of the original’s storyline, and the little differences keep this book fresh and engaging. Sure, I have a few quibbles and would have liked to see a few plot points handled differently, but overall, this is quite a good read.


Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Bennet Women by Eden Appiah-Kubi: Another classic retold! This twist on Pride and Prejudice centers on the “Bennet Women” — the young undergraduate women living in Bennet House at Longbourn College. EJ (the Elizabeth stand-in) is a senior studying engineering and the RA of Bennet House, who holds the values and standards of Bennet House dear to her heart. Her best friends are a trans woman, Jamie, who’s our Jane stand-in, and Tessa, who has a smaller role and seems to be taking the place of Charlotte Lucas. While hitting the major plot beats of P&P, it’s a fresh take full of woman power and feminism, with a nicely diverse cast and some clever approaches to the expected storylines. I really appreciated how EJ’s education and aspirations were given prominence. Here, marriage isn’t a goal or even talked about much — it’s about finding love and respect while also finding themselves, pursuing their dreams, and not giving in to the many ways the world outside of Bennet House might want to limit their opportunities or pull them down.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

That’s my reading round-up! And now, back to all the ARCs and other books calling my name…





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: 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:
My Best Friend’s Exorcism
Paperbacks from Hell (non-fiction)

Shelf Control #203: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

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!


Title: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
Author: Holly Black
Published: 2013
Length: 419 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.

How and when I got it:

I picked up a copy at a library sale a few years back.

Why I want to read it:

I’m on a Holly Black kick! I just finished the amazing Folk of the Air trilogy, and I want more! And while this isn’t a faerie book, it still sounds pretty awesome to me. I understand it’s a vampire story… which is okay by me. And I like the fact that this is a stand-alone, because I have more than enough ongoing series that I’m trying to keep up with.

What do you think? Would you read this book? 

Please share your thoughts!


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!

Flashback Friday: Vamped

Flashback Friday is my own little weekly tradition, in which I pick a book from my reading past to highlight — and you’re invited to join in!

Here are the Flashback Friday book selection guidelines:

  1. Has to be something you’ve read yourself
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

My pick for this week’s Flashback Friday:


Vamped by David Sosnowski

(published 2004)

From Goodreads:

Martin Kowalski is an eighty-year-old man stuck in a twenty-year-old body. He works the graveyard shift. He has a poster of Bela Lugosi on his wall and a box of uneaten Count Chocula in his pantry. He drinks stem-cell-derived blood from cleverly packaged and marketed juice boxes. He is, in short, a vampire. But since his wildly successful scheme to turn as many mortals as possible into vampires — “vamp” them rather than kill them — resulted in a new immortal majority, Marty finds little of interest to fill his countless days.

From the deeply imaginative mind of David Sosnowski — who gave us the critically acclaimed junkie-angel classic Rapture — bursts this neo-vampire novel studded with pint-size vampires known as “screamers” (children who were vamped and are none too happy about it); priest vampires who helped convert their flock into lifetime members of the Church; stripper vampires who lap-danced their way into customers’ veins; and one very small, very outspoken human girl.

When Marty decides to end his endless life of soul-crushing ennui — call it vampire affluenza — a three-foot blond obstacle is thrown in his path: Isuzu Trooper Cassidy, a refugee from a human hunting preserve. At first he thinks “midnight snack,” but before the sun comes up, Isuzu is the one snacking on his prized cereal collection as she charms him into staying undead long enough to raise her in a world rife with danger and almost entirely populated by vampires yearning for the taste of real human blood.

Most of my Flashback Friday books have been rather serious ones, all in all. Vamped is decidedly not.

Sorry, humans, but in the world of Vamped, the vampires have won. Pretty much no humans live “in the wild” in this world, although a few tasty specimens are kept for hunting and sporting purposes. Instead, vamps live off of synthesized blood in a world they control… and for Marty, at least, it’s all rather boring. Life eternal equals life of no change, and it’s hard to find a reason to keep going. But when Marty finds a tiny human creature on the loose, his world is turned upside-down. Although it may sound like Vamped verges on becoming a sweet, gooey, sentimental, little-girl-saves-grumpy-guy kind of story, it’s actually a whole lot darker and funnier than that. There’s danger lurking around every corner, and Marty has to be both brave and inventive if he has any chance whatsoever of keeping Isuzu alive.

While the vampire genre is so overdone these days, Vamped has some fresh elements that make it a very fun read and a real stand-out among the crowded vampire bookshelves. (I myself was particularly tickled by the concept of Alaska becoming a vampire vacation fantasyland — what could be better than a place where the sun disappears for months at a time?) I’m surprised that more people haven’t heard of this book. I’d place it in my vampire book collection right alongside Christopher Moore’s outrageously awesome Bloodsucking Fiends, You Suck, and Bite Me. I’ve mostly run out of patience with the topic of vampires in general — but I’ll always make an exception for a vampire book that can make me laugh.


Do you host a blog hop or book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

Counting Up the Vampires

I used to read a lot of vampire books. Then I lost interest. Then I got interested again. Then I lost interest again. But for some random reason, the topic of reading vampire books came up the other day in a casual conversation. These things happen. And I got to thinking about how many vampire books I’ve read — and from there, started wondering just how many vampire books I actually have in my house.

Being the numbers geek that I am, I decided to find out. So I marched around my house with a clipboard, writing down the title of every book under my roof that includes at least one vampire character. After some debate, I even threw in books that are on my children’s shelves and are not, strictly speaking, mine.

Et voilà!

Here is my list of vampire books that can currently be found in my house. Please note that this is NOT a list of every vampire book I’ve ever read — just the ones that still live with me. Consider them all part of my collection, except for the ones marked oh-so-cleverly with a (k) — that means they belong to one of my kids.

bloodsuckingDraculaVampedSalem's LotfledglingTwilight (Twilight, #1)Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse, #1)sunshinefevre-dreamThe Radleysbloodshotthe-hunger

Alphabetically by title, with books in a series listed together:

  • All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness
    • A Discovery of Witches
    • Shadow of Night
  • Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter by Laurell K. Hamilton
    • Guilty Pleasures
    • Blue Moon
    • Micah
    • The Laughing Corpse
  • Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
  • Attack of the Vampire Weenies by David Lubar (k)
  • Backup by Jim Butcher
  • Bites and Bones by Lois Metzger (k)
  • Bloodshot by Cherie Priest
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (graphic novels)
    • Season 8, volumes 1 – 8
    • Season 9, volumes 1 – 3
    • Angel & Faith, volumes 1 – 3
    • Buffy Omnibus, volumes 1 – 4
    • Tales of the Slayers
    • Tales of the Vampires
    • Fray
    • Spike
    • Spike vs. Dracula
    • Spike: Asylum
  • Bunnicula by James Howe (k)
  • Children of the Night by Dan Simmons
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker
  • The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
    • Storm Front
    • Fool Moon
    • Grave Peril
    • Summer Knight
    • Death Masks
    • Blood Rites
    • Dead Beat
    • Proven Guilty
    • White Night
    • Small Favor
    • Turn Coat
    • Changes
    • Ghost Story
  • Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
  • Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin
  • Fledgling by Octavia Butler
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling
  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
  • The Hunger by Whitley Streiber
  • I Am Legend by Richard Matheson
  • In the Forest of the Night by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes (k)
  • Jane True series by Nicole Peeler
    • Tempest Rising
    • Tracking the Tempest
    • Tempest’s Legacy
    • Eye of the Tempest
    • Tempest’s Fury
  • Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs
    • Moon Called
    • Blood Bound
    • Iron Kissed
    • Bone Crossed
    • Silver Borne
    • River Marked
    • Frost Burned
    • Homecoming (graphic novel)
    • Moon Called, volume 1 (graphic novel)
    • Moon Called, volume 2 (graphic novel)
  • The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger
    • Soulless
    • Changeless
    • Blameless
    • Heartless
    • Timeless
    • Soulless (manga) volumes 1 & 2
  • The Passage by Justin Cronin
  • The Radleys by Matt Haig
  • Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
  • Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris
    • Dead Until Dark
    • Living Dead in Dallas
    • Club Dead
    • Dead to the World
    • Dead as a Doornail
    • Definitely Dead
    • All Together Dead
    • A Touch of Dead
  • Sunshine by Robin McKinley
  • Teeth: Vampire Tales by Ellen Datlow (editor)
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
    • Twilight
    • New Moon
    • Eclipse
    • Breaking Dawn
    • The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner
    • Twilight: The Graphic Novel (volumes 1 & 2)
  • Vamped by David Sosnowski
  • Vampire Trilogy by Christopher Moore
    • Bloodsucking Fiends
    • You Suck
    • Bite Me
  • The Vampire Archives by Otto Penzler (editor)
  • The Vampire Survival Guide by Scott Bowen
  • The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice
    • Interview With The Vampire
    • The Vampire Lestat
    • The Queen of the Damned
    • The Tale of the Body Thief


vamp-archivesChildren of the NightYou Suck (A Love Story, #2)Interview with the Vampire (The Vampire Chronicles, #1)bite-metouch-of-deadBlood Bound (Mercy Thompson, #2)Soulless (Parasol Protectorate, #1)Soulless: The Manga, Vol. 1 (The Parasol Protectorate Manga)Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2)Twilight: The Graphic Novel, Vol. 1 (Twilight: The Graphic Novel, #1)Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Freefall (Season 9, #1)

Again, I’m not including here all the various borrowed/lent/lost/given away books which I’ve read over the years, such as the rest of the Sookie Stackhouse series, Meg Cabot’s two vampire books, and oodles more. I also did not go through my various supernatural-themed anthologies and short story collections to hunt for vampires. (Honestly, I was running out of steam). Feel free to jump in and correct me if I’ve included anything that shouldn’t be here; for example, I’m assuming there’s some form of vampire (White, Red, or Black Court) in each of the Dresden Files books, but I didn’t actually go back and check.

My head is spinning a bit, but if my count is correct, that makes 112 vampire books living in my house. Sheesh. I’m not sure what conclusion to draw from all this, except the obvious: That’s a lot of vampires.

Still, this was a fun little exercise, and certainly any excuse for pawing through my bookshelves works for me.

So how many vampires are lurking on your shelves?