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

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Rating:  ★★★★

This is my second time reading Hendrix and it did not disappoint. The first time I read Horrorstor, and it felt fun and a little campy, and I listened to it on audio. I read a physical copy of The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires and it was a very different experience.

The premise is that Patricia, a housewife in South Carolina, gave up her career to be a wife and mother. She takes up reading in a book club with five friends. They read true crime novels. When a new neighbor moves in down the street, and fishy things start happening around him, Patricia starts to suspect the new neighbor may be up to no good, but everyone agrees Patricia is just letting her reading get to her head.

There aren’t any real twists or turns in the plot. Everything is pretty much as it seems. Which works in this instance because it allows the author to build suspense. There were several scenes where I felt like I was holding my breath. Is there such a thing as white knuckle reading?  I was doing that.  A good portion of my reading is comprised of horror and thriller books, so that’s probably one of the highest compliments I could pay this.

The characters aren’t the most robust I’ve ever encountered, but the author does a good job of fleshing them out. They each have their own little quirks and idiosyncrasies, different relationships with each other and with their husbands. Warning: the way women are treated in this book will make you want to scream. They are discounted as silly. Their thoughts, opinions and feelings meaningless, and treated like objects.  I don’t think Hendrix was endorsing this behavior – I think it was more based on what he read and observed growing up (afterall, he said the inspiration for this book was his own mother).

There are some graphic scenes, and there are things that happen off page involving children under the age of 10 which are terrible. I’m putting it here as a warning for people who would rather avoid it. I think the beginning of the book is a little misleading in that it’s fun and campy, like Horrorstor, but ultimately takes a very dark turn.

I thoroughly enjoyed this in the end, despite the semi depressing ending, and look forward to reading the next book from Hendrix.  The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires released on April 7, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher who sent a free review copy!

Book Review: The Deep by Alma Katsu

The Deep by Alma Katsu

Rating:  ★★★

The Deep is a dark fantasy that explores the sinking of both the Titanic, and it’s sister ship the Brittanic.  We follow several characters but primarily we follow the story of one of the ship’s maids, Annie Hebley.

The story is told in two timelines, following the past of events on the Titanic prior to its sinking, and the current events leading up to the sinking of the Britannic.  The transition between the two timelines felt very natural with flashbacks seeming to come to Annie and leading us on to another piece of the Titanic’s history.

Technically speaking, I think Katsu writes very well.  Things never felt awkward or overly descriptive.  All the scenes were clear with no confusion about the action taking place in the scene.  However I often felt like there was a lot of unnecessary filler content when it came to the Titanic’s timeline.

There were many characters that held view points that didn’t seem so out of place while reading, but in retrospect, knowing where the story was going and seeing the whole picture, felt a little wasted.  I feel bad saying that because a couple of the unnecessary POVs were some of my favorite characters.  I just think ultimately the novel would have benefited from having a narrower focus on Catherine, Mark, and Annie’s story.

There is a mystery at the core of The Deep: who is Annie?  What happened in her past that led her to leave home and board the ship in the first place?  Who is Mark and what is he hiding?  How are all of these things connected?

It’s a mystery that doesn’t disappoint and I genuinely think that if I hadn’t had to trudge through some of those other POVs to get at the heart of it, I would have given this book a higher rating.

In the end, it’s not a bad book, worth checking out if the topic is of interest to you.  The Deep can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher and Edelweiss for supplying an electronic copy of this book for review.

Book Review: The Book of Koli by M.R. Carey

The Book of Koli by MR Carey

Rating:  ★★★★★

The Book of Koli is a book I have been very excited for since I first heard about it earlier this year.  I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, given this is my first time reading Carey, but I am thrilled to report he did not disappoint.

The world presented here is one of the more unique worlds I think I’ve encountered. It’s set in a future earth in which trees and plants have become deadly to humans.  On sunny days the trees are active (physically active!), so the village must wait for the rainy, grey days to venture out and do their hunting.  Most of the world’s human population has died out, so people live in villages few and far between.

These villages are run by people with the “magical” ability to wake up tech.  No one knows how the tech chooses who it will work for or why.  These leaders are known as Ramparts.  Koli, our MC, dreams of becoming Koli Rampart, wielding his own tech and joining the ranks of leaders and lawmakers.  The overall result is a strange mix of antiquated societal structure combined with some far future dystopian technology.

The voice of Koli is very strong.  It almost reminded me of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.  The grammar is often incorrect, the sentences run on in stream of consciousness style.  While it might bother some readers, I found it somewhat endearing, and easy to connect with Koli as a character.  I also enjoyed the other characters, Ursala-From-Elsewhere and Monono Aware (A-wa-ray).   Ursala especially, with her intelligence and compassion, but also the prickly and unapproachable exterior.

The plot moves along at a breakneck pace.  I found the book almost impossible to put down and read it in just a couple of days.  That’s the fastest I’ve read a book all year.  The plot twists and turns and propels Koli from one peril to the next.  From about the midway point on- Koli’s situation never feels safe.  He cannot take a break to rest, his future is uncertain, and he is surrounded by danger, either from nearby people, animals, or plants.

I also loved the very natural way in which this story is told.  It feels like you might be sitting down with an old friend to hear where they’ve been and what they’ve been up to the past ten years.  Details are woven in about the past through Monono, explaining pieces of what happened to the world and what it was like before it ended.

I do wish we had been able to learn a little more about the natural environment.  I’m curious about the killer trees and the way some animals have evolved over time.  The plot appears to be leading away from village life to an adventure on the road, so I’m hopeful we’ll see more of this in book two.  (And thank goodness we only have to wait until September for it!).

I highly recommend The Book of Koli.  It is brilliantly written, with fully realized characters and detailed world-building.  It releases on April 14, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads, or preordered on Amazon.  Thank you to Orbit Books, who supplied an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier

Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier

Rating:  ★★★★

This was a pretty awesome read. I’m glad I took a chance on it. I was worried it would upset me (abducted children is the main plotline, and not something I really want to cope with). While it is a central theme, there was nothing too graphic in regards to the abducted children. Other content warnings: attempted suicide and suicidal thoughts, drug overdose, and self harm.

The plot is pretty straightforward.  Marin is out shopping one day with her son in a busy market.  She stops to take a phone call and by the time she turns around her son is gone.  The police don’t have any leads and one year later he is still missing.  Marin hires a private investigator to continue searching for him, since the police have given up.

The book wastes no time getting to the story. I was sucked in from the moment I started and finished it in less than 24 hours. I could not stop turning the pages. The prose isn’t overly flowery or descriptive.

Marin is mostly a compelling character. I will say it’s hard to relate to a millionaire and sometimes I was frustrated with how much focus there was on Marin’s stuff or keeping her status. (Of course she can’t divorce her husband, he’s so much richer than her and what would that leave her with? Three successful celebrity hair salons? Pfft.) There is another POV character- Kenzie, who is supposed to be struggling, but I honestly didn’t understand how.. and it made me wonder more than once if the author was a little out of touch with us mere mortals but I digress.

I will say I had the whodunnit pegged fairly early. I actually didn’t mind that so much because I was so curious to see how we’d arrive at that conclusion. If everything else in the book is entertaining (and it was) I don’t mind when I guess parts of the plot. I did not know how it would end.

The other thing that frustrated me was the girl on girl hate, so if that’s something that bothers you steer clear. Overall I enjoyed it and will definitely look for more from Hillier in the future.

Little Secrets releases on April 21, 2020 from Minotaur Books, and can be found on GoodReads or preordered on Amazon. Thank you to the publisher for supplying a review copy.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Borrowed For The Sake Of A Buddy

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Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Today’s topic is “Books I borrowed/bought because…”  The truth is, I am hugely influenced by what my friends and family are reading.  I enjoy being part of the discussion, of the book afterward.  It’s part of why I’m a blogger.  I appreciate having that additional insight and receiving recommendations for books I might not have otherwise found.

Too Like the Lightning (Terra Ignota) by Ada Palmer

Too Like the Lightning (Terra Ignota #1) by Ada Palmer – I would never ever have picked this up without being prompted both by the Science Fiction Fantasy Book Club on GoodReads and a very timely Kindle sale.  The blurb is super vague and a confusing mess that seems like it focuses mostly on world building.  It’s turned out to be one of my favorite books of all time, and if it hadn’t been for the book club pick, I’d never have discovered it.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Back before I started really getting back into reading, circa 2015 or so, I wasn’t very active on GoodReads and I wasn’t frequenting the bookstore.  The movie wasn’t out yet, so I’d honestly never heard of this.  Thanks to a coworker, who let me borrow it, I flew this book and it succeeded in making me love reading again.  I don’t talk about this one much, because it’s since faded to the background, tainted by that terrible movie I was so looking forward to, but I still hold this up as my Nerd Bible every once in awhile.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American Gods by Neil Gaiman – Same workplace, different co-worker.  He went ON AND ON AND ON about this book.  Probably like I do with many of my favorite things.  I didn’t end up reading it until later, but I thought of him the whole time (in a totally not creepy way).  I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as he did, but I could see why he was talking about it so much.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor – This one was prompted by a reading challenge I was doing called “Inclusive Book Bingo”.  And it seemed very YA/MG to me which was sort of a turn off right from the start.  I participated because I didn’t have any better alternatives, and reading together is better than reading alone.  What I discovered was a story worthy of adults and younger audiences.

Renegades by Marissa Meyer

Renegades by Marissa Meyer – This is kind of a weird story.  The short of it is, one reader objected to the inclusion of a gay couple in Renegades, so the rest of us rounded ourselves up and initiated a buddy-read-sit-in.  I made a couple wonderful reader friends that I still message with regularly.  Renegades turned out to be pretty enjoyable, even though I haven’t gone on to continue the series.  (I’m not opposed to it, it simply isn’t a priority.)

The Mere Wife Maria Dahvana Headley

The Mere Wife by  Maria Dahvana Headley – This was a book I’d never heard of, on a subject I knew nothing about, because for some reason I never had to read Beowulf in high school.  But I really admire the literary tastes of the person who proposed the buddy read in the first place so I decided to give it a go, even though it didn’t seem like my sort of thing.  And I am so glad I did.  Because truly this was one of the best books I read last year.

Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James – The same person who prompted me to borrow The Mere Wife, prompted me to borrow this.  Unfortunately I didn’t love this one as much as I loved the other, but there was still a lot to appreciate about it, and I’m not sorry I read it.

Carnival by Elizabeth Bear

Carnival by Elizabeth Bear – Another one I can attribute to the Inclusive Book Bingo Challenge.  This was my first experience with Bear.  I still want me some carpet plant, and a House… and a Khir… so many cool things.  I likely never would have discovered this book if it hadn’t been elected as the Book Bingo group read.

Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning

Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning – I have my momma to thank for this one!  She has lots of good recommendations and I think we’ve read through most of this series together.  I doubt I’d ever have found it on my own.

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel

The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel – Another great recommendation from my mom!  This is way outside my comfort zone- but when my mom recounted the story to me I was sort of in disbelief.  I’ve seen a Maine winter.  Surviving 20 of them with no roof over your head?  I read the book and I still can’t imagine.
And that’s it!  Have you ever picked up a book or read something you might not have otherwise because someone you trusted recommended it?

 

 

Month in Review: March 2020

Hello friends!  I’m back after a short hiatus.  I needed to catch up on my reading.  It’s hard to be a book blogger when you aren’t getting any reading done afterall.

So this post is a little late, and to boot it’s a little sad.  I really didn’t get much done in March, adjusting to my new life as stay-at-home mom, educator, and recruiter.

Novels/Novellas Read: 4

Short Stories: 0

Pages Read: 1,373

Average Rating: 3.5

Female Authors: 3

Favorite Read:

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

Other Reads Completed:

 

The Companions by Katie M. Flynn

A Time Of Dread by John Gwynne

The Deep by Alma Katsu (RTC)

ARCs Received:

Whelp.  There goes my ARC requesting ban.  I’m sorry.  I was doing good, for a little while anyway.

Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

The Mirror Man by Jane Gilmartin

The Reincarnationist Papers by D. Eric Maikranz

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

PopSugar Challenge 2020 Prompts Completed:

A book on a subject you know nothing about: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

A book with a map: A Time of Dread by John Gwynne

Other Posts for March:

Discussion: The Dreaded Slump

Top Ten Tuesday: Pandemic Fiction

Ideas for Staying Sane While Social Distancing

Coming Up:

A couple of these I’ve already read through, and am super excited to share!  I also fell behind in March ARCs, so I’ll be catching up with those.

What have you got planned for April?  Anything exciting?

Ideas For Staying Sane While Social Distancing

Hello friends.  At my house, we are officially starting week two of working from home, and my first grader, after “enjoying” April vacation, will be starting online learning.

I have literally no idea how I’m going to make this work.  Conduct virtual meetings, interviews, numerous phone calls, and teach my child math, reading, music, library, art, health, and gym?

 

Dr Evil

I don’t mean to complain.  I realize that I’m lucky to even have a job right now, and my hearts go out to those of you who are filing for unemployment, even if it’s temporary.

That being said – I’m also lucky to have a child who’s relatively clever and can probably do a lot of this with minimal supervision (but still, she deserves better than that).  Either way, it’s a daunting task, and worse, I have no idea how long we’ll have to keep this up.  My understanding is that some states have already closed schools for the rest of the year.

My plan right now is to figure out some sort of schedule for her and stick to it.  Make it as much like school as I can, with a planned lunch hour where she and I and our chihuahua can get out of the house for a bit and away from our screens.

But what about all those other hours we are home?  I know many of us are having trouble concentrating enough to read, and there are only so many decent shows to binge.  So here are some of the things my daughter and I are doing to try and keep ourselves sane.

Diamond Painting

Diamond Painting

This is probably one of the most relaxing, mindlessly fun activities I’ve discovered in recent months.  You can find kits for less than $15 on Amazon and they will keep you busy for many, many hours depending on the size.

The downside, I realize, is some children will find this boring, or simply not have the level of focus required to sit at a table and stick plastic gems to a page.

Cooking and Baking

Birthday-Cupcakes-With-Sprinkles-500x375

With restaurants across the country closed for dine-in services (I hope we were all able to stock up on food), what better time to take up cooking?  My daughter loves helping me in the kitchen, and I love a good meal (and a good dessert).  Admittedly, baking is not even remotely my strong suit, but it’s more about the decorating for the kids anyway.

Some of our favorite things to make include: Tacos (make them kid friendly and bite size by using Tostito’s Scoops as your shell), Pizza, Spaghetti and Meatballs, and Chef Marcus Samuelsson’s Mac and Cheese.

Virtual Family Game Night

65609494 - the colorful word trivia on wooden table

I actually stole this idea from a coworker.  His family is using ZOOM to video conference with his family and play trivia games.  Trivia questions are easily available for free online and players could take turns prepping and hosting the game.  

Build a Fairy Garden

Fairy Gardens

My daughter and I have been doing this every spring since she was three years old.  We typically incorporate plants or flowers into ours, like above, but I would imagine those might be hard to come by right now.  (Don’t worry, fairy gardens are still cute even without real plants.)  You can purchase some fun fairy furniture online, or even better, you can make some yourself using items from around the house or found in your back yard, like the DIY furniture found in this video.

Virtual Tours

Sunset over the Louvre - Paris

Okay – admittedly, I stole this idea from two sources.  One was a random list of stuff I could do at home with my daughter and the other was from a team building exercise we did at work.

There are plenty of museums offering free virtual tours (including the Louvre!).  To make it more interactive, pick your favorite piece, and do your best to recreate it.  My seven year old is super passionate about her artwork, so this is something I’d absolutely love to take advantage of while we are stuck at home.

Quilling

quilling-paper-art_500x309-r

Quilling is taking strips of paper, rolling them up into different shapes, and gluing them down to make a picture.  Again, kits like this can be found on Amazon for less than $15, and have everything you need to get started.  Some of the shapes are more difficult than others but otherwise this activity isn’t as difficult as it looks and the resulting pictures are very pretty!

And of course, I hope we’re all getting outside for some fresh air.  I’ll be very happy when the weather is warmer in our neck of the woods.

What are you all doing to keep from going stir-crazy?  Have you got any fun ideas we can try at our house?

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Pandemic Fiction

TTT-NEW

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

For some I know this topic will hit too close to home right now, and I don’t blame you.  Feel free to skip this and go on to the next link.  But if you’re like me, with a black, and often inappropriate sense of humor, you might be craving every pandemic book you can get your hands on right now.  Some of these I’ve read, some of them I haven’t, but I hope everyone finds something interesting.

And if speculative plagues are less your thing, here are a few historical and nonfiction plague books:

 

I realize this list is far from comprehensive – have I missed any of your favorites?  Are you reading pandemic fiction now or avoiding it?

 

Book Review: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

Rating:  ★★★★

I am not going to give you either a blurb or a summary of events here.  I think the blurb is super spoilerific – so if you can go in blind, please go in blind.  I’m going to avoid spoilers here as much as possible.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with The Glass Hotel.  I read Station Eleven last year via audiobook and it was one of the few audiobooks that managed to capture my attention for the full eleven hours.  For an untrained audiobook listener, that was a big deal. I was even more amazed that I could so completely enjoy a book that lacked any serious plot direction.  It was the characters and the snapshots of their lives driving me onward, and I’m happy to report The Glass Hotel is structured similarly.

The book meanders from one POV to the next and back again.  For the most part, I enjoyed all the perspectives, even if I enjoyed some a smidge more.  These are fully realized characters.  We follow them through the high and low points of their lives.  We bear witness to all their ugly sins and fatal flaws.

Reading print instead of listening, I had the opportunity to appreciate Mandel’s writing in a way I previously hadn’t.  It is compulsive. It flows beautifully.  It’s accessible and literary all at the same time.  It convinced me that I need to read pretty much everything she has ever written.

As for the story, well, I found it to be a good bit darker than I remembered Station Eleven being, despite the fact that this contains no apocalypse inducing pandemics.  Most of the characters aren’t the sort you’d want to be friends with, and they leave other characters devastated in their wake.  Especially haunting considering parts of this were based on a true story.

The are some speculative, supernatural elements to this story – but ultimately I’d categorize it under contemporary literature.  It’s not a significant part of the book.  In retrospect, I wish she’d done a little more with that piece, fleshed it out just a bit, given us more of a reason for it’s inclusion.

The ending for some characters is slightly ambiguous. Not so much that it annoyed me but it just felt a little anticlimactic.  Despite the darkness of some events, Mandel still manages to end it on what feels like a hopeful note. Ultimately, my complaints are minor  and I found most of the novel completely engrossing, and ultimately difficult to put down.

Despite my numerous comparisons to Station Eleven, The Glass Hotel stands on its own, and I highly recommend picking up if you enjoy Mandel’s writing.   It releases on tomorrow, March 24, 2020, and can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

Book Review: A Time of Dread (Of Blood and Bone #1) by John Gwynne

A Time of Dread by John Gwynne

Rating:  ★★★1/2

Blurb (from GoodReads):  A race of warrior angels, the Ben-Elim, once vanquished a mighty demon horde. Now they rule the Banished lands, but their peace is brutally enforced.

In the south, hotheaded Riv is desperate to join the Ben-Elim’s peacekeeping force, until she unearths a deadly secret.

In the west, the giantess Sig investigates demon sightings and discovers signs of an uprising and black magic.

And in the snowbound north, Drem, a trapper, finds mutilated corpses in the forests. The work of a predator, or something far darker?

It’s a time of shifting loyalties and world-changing dangers. Difficult choices need to be made. Because in the shadows, demons are gathering, waiting for their time to rise…

I picked this up because I’ve been meaning to read Gwynne for awhile.  I meant to start with the first book set in this world: Malice, but I was trying to decide whether I wanted to request the third book in this series for review.  One of my GoodReads buddies told me I really should have started with Malice in order to fully appreciate this book.

But I’m not really sure it would have helped any.  When I first started reading, I was very happy.  We started with a battle and lots of action, the characters felt unique and fun, the pacing and chapter length were perfect for me.

However, the novelty wore off relatively quickly.  The action slows down after those initial few chapters, and Gwynne’s writing style isn’t one that necessarily agrees with me. For starters, I should mention the reason I’ve dragged my feet on this one for so long:  angels and demons have never really been my thing.  I find the black and white line of “good” and “evil” between them superficial and incredibly boring. I like my villains with a soft side and my heroes with shades of gray.

To be fair to Gwynne, his angels, or Ben-Elim, aren’t necessarily pure of heart.  They don’t preach endless forgiveness and do react with extreme cruelty to “lore-breakers”.  But then, evangelism really sort of irritates me too.  And the demons are exactly as one note as you would expect.

I did enjoy some of the characters, namely Drem and Sig.  Riv and Bleda’s storylines felt extremely YA to me- the warrior training, the lore learning, petty rivalries, and of course, the stupid love triangle.  I feel like there might be a fifth perspective I’m missing, and that sure does say a lot doesn’t it?  Considering I only finished a week ago.

Gwynne’s writing isn’t bad, and my issue with it comes strictly from a personal preference.  The characters all have inner monologues, which we are told, and which are italicized.  I know it’s not the first time I’ve seen inner monologues written down, however, here, for some reason they felt highly unnecessary and broke the flow of the writing.  Worse still, they seemed to become more frequent as the book went on.  I just didn’t like it.

What I did like about this book, aside from the angels and demons, was that the world-building is a lot of fun.  There are different tribes and regions, giants riding bears, magical swords, rich histories… And Gwynne more or less delivers it without it feeling info dump-y.  Newcomers to Gwynne can easily pick up this book and read it as if it was first book set in this world, even if returning fans might appreciate it a little more.

There are some gut wrenching emotional moments, so he succeeded in making me care at least.  I am still undecided as to whether I will continue the series.  I borrowed book two alongside book one, and with my local libraries closed, I’m able to keep it much longer than expected, so I might.  I don’t think I’ll be requesting the ARC because I want to be free to leave these books behind if book two doesn’t agree with me.

I know this series is well loved by many, and it’s entirely possible that I wasn’t in the right mood to read this, so take my review with a grain of salt.  A Time of Dread can be found on GoodReads if you’d like to check it out for yourself.

Have you read A Time of Dread?  What did you think?