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Recently, I went back to rewatch Hemlock Grove and realized that even after three years I’m still salty about it. April 19 is the anniversary of the release of the first season of Hemlock Grove and all its wasted potential. From the ridiculous CGI wolf in the finale to the incest demon baby, the whole thing is like a bad Thanksgiving dinner where everyone gets sick after Uncle Charlie’s experimental cooking. Although it’s developed a minor cult following, Hemlock Grove is an extremely obscure, underrated/dumpster fire of a series that many people either hate or have never heard of.

The series is an adaptation of Brian McGreevy’s novel of the same name, “Hemlock Grove”. I’m going to be blunt and just admit that I hate the book. It’s like reading an outline of a novel rather than an actual novel. I personally don’t believe McGreevy is very skilled as an author. Most of his work resides in television and it shows itself in the three novels that he’s written. His literary works, including “Hemlock Grove”, feel undeveloped and without much emotion. Although, in a strange way, the series matches it perfectly.

*For anyone interested, McGreevy has two companion works to “Hemlock Grove.” A spin-off prequel about the character Destiny titled “Desire” and a graphic novel set a few years earlier titled “Hemlock Grove: Reflections On The Motive Power of Fire.”

Watchability aside, the story is unique. A plot straight from Grimm’s Fairytales full of colorful characters. There’s a handsome Romani werewolf, a family of beautiful Romanian vampires, a religious alcoholic assassin, and a Victor Frankenstein knockoff. They all come together in Hemlock Grove, a quiet town that becomes the setting for a series of brutal murders.

What went wrong

Hemlock Grove is one of those shows that only works if you never take it seriously. Which is what too many people did. The show is as terrible as it is terrific, The Room of horror TV. (Just kidding, it’s not that bad). The pacing is off, the dialogue is clunky, character dynamics are either awkward or too sexual. The two main leads act more like lovers than unlikely BFFs. Then there’s the mixed bag of subplots that’s about as consistent as an ultimate supermax bag of trail mix. You reach in, hoping for an M&M, only to grab a peanut instead. I believe a lot of this has to do with Eli Roth, the executive producer of the series.

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A member of the “Splat Pack”, Roth is a director most known for controversial films that take great joy in creatively and violently bludgeoning their characters. A detail he carried over into Hemlock Grove. The series is so creative in its execution that it forgets what to do with everything else.

There are incredible themes taking place in this series that fall flat by the finale. The first season featured a violent metaphor for female sexuality that blows over way too quickly. Another is life’s revolving door, how the past always comes back to us. The blood connection between mains Peter and Roman as they’re distantly related through Olivia Godfrey that fades away after Season 2 as if it never existed.

Better than its credited for

Despite all that, Hemlock Grove should’ve gotten the attention that is deserved. Especially in a world where Jason Takes Manhattan and Leprechaun are worshiped just for sucking so spectacularly. The werewolf story alone makes it worth your time. After years of sad hairy sacks of misery that hate the moon and cry about being monsters, Peter Rumancek is a standout among wolfman. The wolves in this series are beautiful. They’re more purely animalistic than anything seen in Ginger Snaps, The Wolfman, or Underworld.

People should give this a second chance. Just for a chance to enjoy how bizarre it is. Once you look past the bad, the show actually has some pleasant things to say, but let’s just pretend that it ended after Season 1. Getting a renewal was nothing but the kiss of death for this show.

All photos are property of Netflix and Gaumont International Television 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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Rachel Roth is a writer who lives in South Florida. She has a degree in Writing Studies and a Certificate in Creative Writing, her work has appeared in several literary journals and anthologies. @WinterGreenRoth

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Book Reviews

Brutality, Motherhood, and Art: Nightbitch Review

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“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. 

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4.4 out of 5 stars (4.4 / 5)

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Book Reviews

Gothic, Ghosts, and Tlachiqueros: The Hacienda Review

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“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. 

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4.8 out of 5 stars (4.8 / 5)


Preorder Isabel Cañas’s new book Vampires of El Norte now!

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Book Reviews

“The Family Game” Glimpses Into The 1%

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Are their traditions innocent or are they darker than they seem?

The Plot

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?

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The Verdict

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 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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