“The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires” and Its Unmistakably Sharp Horror Social Commentary
Described as a mix between Dracula and Steel Magnolias, this newest horror novel from Grady Hendrix is a true hit. There is much here to be a fan of for, as Kirkus Reviews states on the back cover, “smart horror” fans.
The title tells you all you need to know: a Southern ladies book club in Charleston, SC find themselves in a predicament with James, a new vampire in town. Hendrix provides an entertaining vampire hunting story with some interesting twists, while also still giving us his known signature brand of irony and pop culture weaved into some sharp social commentary and satire. James seems like a great guy until our main character, Patricia, starts to put some clues together. Then she’s on a vampire hunt. She just has to convince the girls first.
There are some really amazing female characters in this novel that find their agency and rage throughout the progression of the novel. It was a thrilling journey to be a part of as a reader and the characters truly felt like human beings.
This novel is smart, fun, and a true piece of horror camp. There are some scenes that are just absolutely disgusting. Hendrix has chops in the horror writing department. However, what I truly appreciate about his prose is that horror does not serve a singular purpose. This novel acts as strong social commentary.
I have seen some reviews of this novel that condemn its allegedly racist and sexist views. I will be addressing this below in detail, but I am unable to do so without the use of mild spoilers. If you prefer to read this novel without my mild spoilers, you can just know that any racist or sexist events in the novel are for a purpose of utmost clarity in my mind. Knowing Hendrix and his use of social commentary in all of his writing, I explain my take on the subject of racism and sexism in the novel below.
Mild Spoilers Ahead!
As social commentary, this novel is an allegory for the racist and sexist oppression of black communities and female spaces in the 1990s. Suburban, white neighborhoods (like that which our book club members, and eventually their husbands and James are a part of) in the time period of the novel (the 1990s) became wealthy from the war on drugs. Patricia even believes that James is dealing drugs to the children who have killed themselves early on in the novel. Hendrix makes these connections clear. These white neighborhoods became wealthy from this war on drugs at the expensive of poor black neighborhoods. James is a vampire who preys on the black children in the novel, sucking their blood and leaving them to commit suicide, while helping his book club friends make money off of investments and building a new community in the same black neighborhood where he is preying off of children, slowly gentrifying their space and forcing them out.
I have seen many reviews criticizing this novel for its racist and sexist events/views. As a fan of Hendrix, I know this to be a conscious choice and his style of underlying critique of a certain time period or event. He is creating historically accurate portrayals of such behavior to make a point. If you’re not uncomfortable reading something, I don’t think you have learned anything or been made to think from a piece of writing. Hendrix nailed it with this novel, just as he has in the past.
This novel has serious camp, while being gritty and full of important criticism underneath the surface. Hendrix does it again. (5 / 5)
Brutality, Motherhood, and Art: Nightbitch Review
“In the distance, she heard her husband in the backyard call for her , but she was not that woman anymore, that mother and wife. She was Nightbitch, and she was fucking amazing. It seemed she had been waiting for this for a very, very long time.” -pg 89, Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder
Nightbitch is the debut novel of Rachel Yoder about a stay-at-home mother coming to terms with the loneliness and brutality of motherhood. The main character, only referred to as The Mother, begins to undergo a frightening change as she sinks deeper into a depressive state. She transforms into Nightbitch, an animalistic creature full of anger, bloodlust, and freedom. The Mother must utilize the help of a strange book and a group of multi-level marketing mommies to harness her newfound strength before she loses herself or her family.
The novel is a stunning commentary on the everyday violence of motherhood centered within the context of werewolf and mystical woman mythos. The Mother spends much of the book contemplating her future and the abandonment of her dreams. Specifically, she grapples with the loss of her ability to create art, her longtime passion. On a larger scale, Nightbitch examines how many women are asked to stop being individuals after having children and only become mothers–existing only in the presence of their child. The message is clear, poignant, dark, and at times, hilarious. The prose and structure of the book are abnormal, however, it works with the overall messaging and plot.
As far as negatives go, Nightbitch was pretty ambiguous. This was by design, and created an aura of magical mysticism around many of the characters and events. The Mother is the definition of an unreliable narrator. However, towards the end of the book, I would have liked a little more clarity in what certain characters knew.
Nightbitch is a must read for any parent. As a non-parent, I highly recommend it for those interested in feminist horror or more avant-garde approaches to horror narratives. Those who don’t like books with heavy introspection or ambiguous storytelling may enjoy something else, however I still think it is an interesting read nonetheless.(4.4 / 5)
Gothic, Ghosts, and Tlachiqueros: The Hacienda Review
“Dread washed over me. Had she been sitting there, watching me sleep, the whole night? Her skin gleamed like candle wax in the light; then she grinned and whatever color her eyes had been before, now they turned red. In an instant, her skin transformed, dried and desiccated into leather, and her teeth grew long and needle sharp.” -pg 214, The Hacienda by Isabel Cañas
The Hacienda is a gothic horror novel by Isabel Cañas set in the wake of Mexico’s War for Independence. The debut novel by Cañas, it delivers a classic haunted house tale with a twist of Mexican high society. Recently made homeless by the execution of her father, Beatriz marries Don Solórzano to escape her cruel treatment by her relatives. However, once she joins him on his estate, she finds that the promise of a new life holds dark secrets and darker spirits. She enlists the help of a priest, Andrés, to uncover both. Together, they find the home has more dangers than they bargained for. And more threats both supernatural and far too material await every corner.
I adored The Hacienda from start to finish. Cañas’s prose was accessible but full of deep imagery. While told from the perspective of both Beatriz and Andrés, neither outweighed the other. The perspectives were interesting and the transition between the two was well executed throughout the novel. I usually don’t seek out romantic books, but I loved the romantic and sexual tension between the two main characters. Specifically since the romantic tension developed within both perspectives, the relationship’s “will-they-won’t-they” felt both plausible and full of stakes. And of course, The Hacienda was spooky! I loved the way the spirits manifested and the impact that had on the characters.
My only minor criticisms would be the resolution was fairly quick and mostly offscreen. Though maybe I’m just saying that because I wanted to keep reading, even after the book ended! I also found myself slightly annoyed at the characters for not picking up on some of the more obvious clues to what had happened in the house.
A thoroughly enjoyable gothic (and dare I say, romantic) novel that kept me on the edge of my seat, I highly recommend The Hacienda. If you enjoy haunted house tales, you will enjoy this book.(4.8 / 5)
Preorder Isabel Cañas’s new book Vampires of El Norte now!
“The Family Game” Glimpses Into The 1%
Are their traditions innocent or are they darker than they seem?
Harry, short for Harriet, is a British writer gaining popularity after the publishing of her first novel. She meets Edward, a member of the widely known Holbeck family, and the two strike up a relationship. The Holbecks are high powered executives, running family businesses that bring in massive amounts of wealth. When Harry learns she is pregnant, the couple decide that it is finally time for her to meet the family.
During her first meeting with the family, Edward’s father, Robert gives Harry a vintage tape that he says holds a story that he’d like her to listen to. As Harry listens to the tape, she begins to believe that the Holbecks have done some very bad things.
As she continues visiting the family, their strange traditions are revealed to her. The games that they play traditionally involve darkness and fear. Can Harriet find out the truth about the mysterious Holbecks?
Catherine Steadman outdoes herself in The Family Game. She creates such a mysterious family in the Holbecks and their dynamics are intriguing. Readers will follow Harry as she tries to determine the truth about Robert’s misdoings. The cast of family characters are a wonder to watch. We’ve all always wondered what the extremely rich live like. Harry shows us their virtues and misdeeds.
The novel really remarks on the power of wealth and the wealthy’s ability to commit audacious crimes and pay for them to go away. Robert, as the patriarch of the family, is a prime example of such. As Harry begins to discover that Robert may be confessing to a series of murders on the cassette tape, she must decide how to proceed. She knows that the power that Robert holds cannot be taken lightly.
As Harry navigates potentially deadly Christmas traditions, she races for the truth, unable to forget once she finds it. Harry is such a compelling character – a developing mother willing to risk life and limb to protect her unborn baby. Harry is brave and unapologetic and is a true testament on how to write a female main character.
It was very difficult for me to decide between 4 and 5 Cthulus, so we will call it 4.5. This is a novel I highly recommend thriller lovers check out. (4.5 / 5)
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