Mary A.

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

Released April 7, 2020; 408 pages

Author: Grady Hendrix

Overview from Barnes and Noble Website:

Patricia Campbell’s life has never felt smaller. Her husband is a workaholic, her teenage kids have their own lives, her senile mother-in-law needs constant care, and she’s always a step behind on her endless to-do list. The only thing keeping her sane is her book club, a close-knit group of Charleston women united by their love of true crime. At these meetings they’re as likely to talk about the Manson family as they are about their own families.

One evening after book club, Patricia is viciously attacked by an elderly neighbor, bringing the neighbor’s handsome nephew, James Harris, into her life. James is well traveled and well read, and he makes Patricia feel things she hasn’t felt in years. But when children on the other side of town go missing, their deaths written off by local police, Patricia has reason to believe James Harris is more of a Bundy than a Brad Pitt. The real problem? James is a monster of a different kind—and Patricia has already invited him in.

Little by little, James will insinuate himself into Patricia’s life and try to take everything she took for granted—including the book club—but she won’t surrender without a fight in this blood-soaked tale of neighborly kindness gone wrong.

Personal Review

Let me start this review by saying that I enjoyed this book. I hope no one from my office reads this, as I will admit that during some particularly boring meeting, I snuck this book just under the view of my computer camera and blazed through in record time.

The introduction of each character and the friendship formed from this book club was well written considering it happened so early in the story. The addition of the sassy, older character matched well and did not feel shoved into the story. I was also greatly impressed with the descriptive nature of the book. As you can tell, I am being vague, but I know if delve too deep into actual story, I may give away too much. Obviously, there is a book club. Obviously, there is a vampire. And I will let the reader of the title guess what happens with the vampire. But, don’t let that spoil the fun! As a reader, you feel for Patricia and become just as upset and annoyed as she does as she deals with the misogyny of the times and the doubt from those around her when she first learns something is up with James (though, the actual vampire discover was not quite as quick as you would expect).

So, let’s discuss why this book did not receive the coveted 5/5 doughnuts from Chonky Books. One word. Vampires. For a book with the word “Vampires” in the name, the book did not really go into the actual life of the vampire or the actual discover that James was indeed a vampire. Different from other books like the Sookie (or as Bill would say “Sookeeeeh”) Stackhouse series (now known as “True Blood” on HBO) where vampires were treated as parts of society and given clear limitations and lore regarding the vampire community. We actually don’t get much here. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The story is told through the perspective of the main character, Patricia, who interacts primarily with the members of her book club. Given the pre-internet decade the book was set, it makes sense the character only has a limit view of vampires and research capabilities. Not every main heroine can be like Bella Swan from Twilight and just Google the term “vampire” and come to the realization the guy from your class is a vampire.

However, I wish there was more actual vampire-ing happening within the story. As the story revolves around the girls discovering the true identity of the vampire, I don’t feel like enough time was devoted to the plot once the characters found out his true identity. Sure, we (the readers) knew the character was a vampire and that added to the ominous nature of his behavior when he was first introduced to the story. But, the true pleasure in a book is when the main characters finally have all the information the readers have and we can see how the characters and the story unfold now that all the characters have the information they need.

Since the vampire was not a main part of the story, that leads to questionable character motivation. Why is the vampire behaving in that particular way? Are rats their minions (no spoilers, going to have to read to understand)? It does not take away from the story of the main character and, if we just focus on that, it is a fine story. But, what stops it from being a near perfect story is the integration of the vampire into this seemingly ordinary family. A concept that I am sure was done a million and one ways before (particularly during the vampire boom of YA novels). But, often times during that boom of YA vampires novels, the vampire was not made the villain of the story and the surrounding prejudicial people were the true villains. It was refreshing to read a book that let vampires be vampires and be the villain of the story.

This, of course, is what makes the book more of a horror book. Do not be alarmed when very disturbing images are being described and people are being attacked in gross, albeit creative, ways. If you can move past the disturbing imagery like I did, you will find a decently paced book with intriguing and realistic characters.

Don’t let the horror genre turn you off from this book. The variations in narrative can be quite jarring at time, but this book does a great job of making you care for the characters. On one hand you have Patricia who is dealing with family issues with her husband, mother-in-law, and children and the other members in her book club. When all character come together, on paper they are nearly as cliched as they come, but in motion and throughout the book, they become real people with realistic actions and motivations.

In terms of cliches, most ensemble novels tend to create cliched characters to match each type: the conservative mom (whom, despite having 25 kids still doesn’t seem to know what sex is), the fun mom (always out partying and drinking and is usually there to chime in with a witty quip to break the tension), the main character mom (usually the main character that has her life secretly falling apart while the story unfolds), and the perfect mom (likes to be in charge and is typically a know-it-all, seems to have the perfect life – usually the most well-off financially in the group). Of course, this list is not an all inclusive list and I am sure if given the time I could change this blog into one long rant of all cliched characters and the list doesn’t necessarily even cover all in this book, but is a definite pattern I have seen within books.

However, the author did well at making the characters within the book club to be compelling and I actually felt something when something happened to the members and it was refreshing that they were not just used as a plot device for Patricia’s story.

This book did what books are supposed to do, make the reader intrigued to see what happens next. I made it through this book with relative ease and I never found a dull moment where I wasn’t interested to learn the next twist or turn. I am not sure if this will open me up to the rest of the author’s writing, but it has allowed me to give kudos to the author for trying something different in a diluted genre.

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