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Notes From a Reading Journal: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, by Grady Hendrix

Notes from a Reading Journal: “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires,” by Grady Hendrix.

Wow! What started off as a bit of a campy, light-hearted, Southern-fried horror tale turned very dark (and went way deeper than I expected). Set in Charleston, SC, the ladies are old-fashioned housewives of the 1980s -1990s, but if you have ever lived or traveled there, you will know that trends move slower in the South.

Reading murder books at book club is how the ladies get some excitement in their life. At first, we are treated to some hilarious “Southernisms” and anecdotes in the beginning of the book. Everyone is eating cheese straws, shopping at the Piggly Wiggly, delivering casseroles, reading Redbook, and keeping their houses up to par. Until, one night, Patricia happens upon her elderly neighbor, Ann Savage, eating a raccoon while she is taking her trash out one night. I died laughing when Patricia’s response was a well-cultivated “May I help you?” Patricia is attacked and has her earlobe bitten off. 

Pretty soon all hell breaks loose from there. Ann Savage’s mysterious nephew moves into her home and begins wreaking havoc. James Harris is a vampire, and a unique one from the typical throat-biting Dracula model. Fighting the monster is just half of the horror, though. 

This book is a story of dual horror. One story line concerns the “ordinary” lives we lead. The relationships we cultivate, and what is left when things get hard. The horror themes from the everyday lives were the terrible instances of abuse, gaslighting, and manipulations that the husbands all engaged in over their wives. There is the theme of money, power, and corruption. There is the theme of racism and murder in the South. It is a much heavier and deeper book than I expected it to be going in. If you are paying attention, there is a lot to think about from a friendship/relationship perspective here. If you are paying attention, much of this book will make you angry. After all, you expect a monster to be a monster, but we don’t expect our husbands and our friends to be monsters. The ladies are flawed and late to take action as well, and sometimes it is hard to like them.  

Quotes that I kept for my reading journal: 

P. 61: “Everyone knew that any place up north was roughly the same: lawless, relatively savage, and while they might have nice museums and the Statue of Liberty, people cared so little for each other they’d let you die in the street.”

P. 77: “What are you reading that other people didn’t pick out for you?”

P. 224: “My family is my rock,” Slick said. “You’ve never lost everything. I have. Let Destiny’s mother worry about Destiny. I know you think this makes me a bad person, but I need to turn inward and be a good steward to my family right now. I’m sorry.” 

P. 228: “You’re on your side,” Mrs. Greene said. “Don’t ever fool yourself about that.”

P. 270: “No one cares about us out here except when they need us to clean up their mess.”

P. 351: “Let me tell you something…there’s nothing nice about Southern ladies.”

P. 363: “I am singular in this world. I am what you people make legends from.”

Notes From a Reading Journal: The Paris Hours, by Alex George

Notes from a Reading Journal: “The Paris Hours,” by Alex George.

Notes from a Reading Journal: This was my BOTM April selection. This is a novel of four characters in 1927 Paris. Nostalgic creatives who show up: Marcel Proust, Josephine Baker, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Guillaume (the Painter). The most compelling story line for me was that of Marcel Proust and Camille. The character of Camille was inspired by Proust’s real maid, Celeste Albaret, who was directed to (and allegedly did) burn all of his notebooks. Except… what if she didn’t? This is the story line of Marcel and Camille. I loved it.

What I needed most right now was to step into another place and travel using my mind. I needed an escape. What more appealing and picturesque place than The City of Light in 1927? Let me pretend for a moment that I am drinking cafe au lait in the Latin Quarter and indulging in story. Just let me dream. They haven’t taken that away from us yet. Story.

Collected quotes:

“You and I will never get too comfortable here, my friend. We’ll always be from somewhere else, won’t we?” P. 65 “

She knew the fragility of happiness, and for this reason he trusted her.” P. 80

“She breathes in the comforting smell of old books, and wonders how many lifetimes of stories are held here.” P. 83

“Worse still, he was yet to taste a single bite of cheese. But he could not turn back now.” P 88

“I see still waters running deep within you.” P. 133

“He likes to walk through the Latin Quarter. It is the oldest part of the city, a labryinth that meanders and intersects with itself without apparent design or purpose. The pace of life feels a little slower here. People linger a little longer at cafe tables as they watch the rest of the world amble by. One more sip of coffee, one more story in the newspaper. Generations of stories inhabit every brick in every wall. He can almost see the ghosts.” P. 145

“This is what war does, mon ami. The whole world is holding its breath, waiting for life to begin again.” P. 181

I hold my breath.

Notes From a Reading Journal: The Starless Sea, by Erin Morgenstern

Notes from a Reading Journal: “The Starless Sea,” by Erin Morgenstern.

“Why are you here? I’m here to sail the Starless Sea and breathe the haunted air.” — P. 234

“Occasionally Fate can pull itself together again. And Time is always waiting.” — P. 73

My only regret is not being able to cozy up by a fireplace in a country inn while reading this book! If you have loved: Stardust, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, and/or The Magicians, you will love this book.

Truly, truly, this is one of the most magical reads of recent memory. You have to put your logical brain on hold for this one, though, and just let the brain candy do its work. There is no “why” except story for the sake of story, and that was fine with me for this joyride. If you think about it too much, you may not get past all the unanswered questions you will inevitably have, and I think that is where the critics seem to strike. The reader is just going to have to use his own imagination to fill in the blanks. I loved that the ending leaves it open for a sequel!

Zachary stumbles across a mysterious book in his campus library and discovers that the story is about him. It leads him into a world far beneath the surface of the Earth. Down the rabbit hole, if you will. Drink me.

Fans of New York’s the “Strand” will delight in the references to the famous bookstore. Many kicks were had by me. It’s a bookmark of the Strand, from the Strand, inside a book that is talking about the Strand. “Are we at the Strand?”

Notes From a Reading Journal: The Giver of Stars, by Jojo Moyes

Notes from a Reading Journal: “The Giver of Stars,” by Jojo Moyes.

“We women face many unexpected challenges when we choose to step outside what are considered our habitual boundaries.” — P. 386

Book of the Month’s November selections were amazing! “The Giver of Stars” is a beautifully written story involving love and friendship (and even a murder trial) between the female librarians of the WPA’s Eastern Kentucky Packhorse Librarian program. It also will serve as a reminder that no matter what, women living in modern times are experiencing the best time in history to be women.

This is a perfect selection for your ladies’ book club. There are so many themes to discuss! Probably the biggest issue that will stick in your mind is just how hard life was for everyone in that region of the country during the Depression. From the miners and families being exploited by Van Cleve and the company, to the women getting abused and oppressed by their husbands and fathers, it was a real eye-opener.

It has been awhile, but I am vaguely reminded of Fannie Flagg’s “Fried Green Tomatoes.”

Suggestions for discusssions:

  • Discuss what Verna McCullough did for Margery O’Hare. Do you agree with what Verna did?
  • Discuss the marriage and father-in-law dynamics between Alice and Bennett, and the elder Mr. Van Cleve. What did you think about how Alice’s family over in England treated her?
  • Can you imagine how tough you had to be to actually physically do the packhorse librarian job? Discuss the physical requirements, along with the mental toughness it must have taken to be so bold during that period of time.
  • Discuss the importance of friendships and community. Do you see society still banding together so strongly like the female leads in this book, or do you see us all on separate islands, essentially disbanding as a society?

Notes From a Reading Journal: The Toll, by Neal Shusterman

Notes from a Reading Journal: “The Toll,” by Neal Shusterman.

“And isn’t it wrong for me to pretend to be a god? Define ‘wrong,’ the Thunderhead said.” — P. 359

The much appreciated last book of the “Scythe” trilogy has arrived and wraps everything up perfectly for fans.

Scythe Goddard has removed quotas on gleaning, which means scythes are encourage to “make-up” for those scythes who choose to glean less. He’s the same psychopath he always was, except maybe worse if that’s even possible. Spoiler alert – we find out he was behind a historic gleaning. Texas secedes from his jurisdiction, and his response is to cut off goods and services to the region.

I can’t help but see parallels of our modern society within the themes of this series. Do others see them too?

Scythe Faraday has traveled to the Kwajalein Atoll to “unlock the secret of the atoll and access the wisdom of the founding scythes. Their contingency plan for the scythedom’s failure.” The Thunderhead also has a new plan for humanity , and boy is it a doozy. Getting too tough there on Earth? No problem. Let’s just pack up the ships and launch into outer space. It’ll be fine. Humanity won’t repeat the same mistakes on a new planet. Yeah, right!

Citra and Rowan have a good closure. What is inside the Scythes’ rings? You will find out. What does a Scythe do once rendered obsolete? You will find out.

Notes From a Reading Journal: The Glass Ocean, by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White

Notes from a Reading Journal: “The Glass Ocean,” by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White

“Oh, for Christ’s sake! You bloody Americans and your conspiracy theories. What are you trying to imply, Miss Blake? That my great-grandfather was some kind of secret agent? Maybe had something to do with the sinking of the ship.” — P. 48

Sarah Blake needs an idea for her next book. When she stumbles across an old chest belonging to her great-grandfather who died while working as a steward on board the Lusitania, inspiration strikes. She leaves New York for London, in hopes of engaging the help of John Langford, descendant of Robert Langford. Robert Langford gave her grandfather an engraved watch and Sarah is sure there is a story there about the events leading up to the sinking of the ship.

The historical mystery is told from three perspectives: Sarah (modern tale); Tess; and Caroline (set in 1915 with events leading up to the boarding of Lusitania; their crossing; and after). There are love stories; tales of espionage and double-agents; and of course, historical tidbits about the sinking of Lusitania. It is all wrapped up nicely in the end too, with no guessing needed.

P.S. The story in the beginning about a book club hosting an author when they pirated online copies of her book is real. Yikes! Buy the book or download from the library, y’all!

Notes From a Reading Journal: The Turn of the Key, by Ruth Ware

Notes from a Reading Journal: “The Turn of the Key,” by Ruth Ware.

“There’s something about that house you know. It’s claimed more than one child. The doctor’s little girl wasn’t the first, by all accounts… Back when it was Struan House… The Struans were a very old family and not quite right in the head, by the end. One of them killed his wife and child, drowned them both in the bath, and another came back from the war and shot himself with his own rifle.” — P. 195

This was another BOTM selection for August. I have read comparisons of this book as a modern retelling of “The Turn of the Screw.” Rowan Caine applies for a live-in nanny post for three girls in remote Heatherbrae House, which is a remote historic home in the Scottish countryside. Sandra, the mother, warns Rowan when she applies that they have had four nannies resign in the past fourteen months and that the house has been connected to some local superstitions and tales of hauntings.

The book begins with a series of letters. Rowan is looking for legal counsel because she has been imprisoned for the death of one of the girls while under her care at Heatherbrae House.

The creepiness of the upgraded smart home with all of the cameras is a nice modern touch, and of course no one is who they seem to be at first glance. This tale will keep you guessing between the sources of madness. Is it ghosts; mischievous children; an intruder; a nefarious handyman; or is it really the nanny all along?

Notes From a Reading Journal: The Whisper Man, by Alex North

Notes from a Reading Journal: “The Whisper Man,” by Alex North.

“Someone was whispering. But the figure at the end of the bed, still swaying ever so slowly from side to side, was entirely silent… When I looked back, the silhouette at the end of my bed had disappeared and the room was empty” — P. 112-113

This was one of my BOTM selections for August, and boy did it ever pack a punch! It reminded me of Silence of the Lambs. North crafted a masterful novel with tension and suspenseful moments building and blending together perfectly. What a ghoul the Collins character is!

Frank Carter aka The Whisper Man child killer has been imprisoned for years. So when a local child goes missing, and then new residents Tom and his son, Jake, are targeted, police have to figure out if they are dealing with an old accomplice of Frank Carter’s; a copycat; or something else entirely.

There are so many twists and turns in this book! The relationships are rich and complex as well. At first you will think that Jake is either talking to an imaginary friend or a ghost, but the answer is so much better.

Notes From a Reading Journal: The Golden Hour, by Beatriz Williams

Notes from a Reading Journal: “The Golden Hour,” by Beatriz Williams.

“Then I touched land and discovered that freedom was not so straightforward, that you could move to a different universe but you couldn’t escape the prison of your own skin.” — P. 53

This was my BOTM selection for June. I think I thought I was getting into a murder mystery set in the Bahamas wherein the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were operating behind the scenes. What I got was more of a historical romance that involved two sets of couples – Elfriede and Wilfred, and their son Benedict Thorpe and new wife Lulu. The murder mystery and the royals were more on the periphery. Whatever I got vs. what I thought I ordered, I was glad to get! The way the book is written is absolutely compelling and beautifully written. The author certainly knows how to keep you turning those pages and engaged in her story.

I will be checking out more titles by Beatriz Williams just to read some more of her language. This time, with no expectations of what the story is about! Forgive the comparison, but much like sitting at the chef’s table, sometimes you need to sit back and let the master work. Next time, I will know to happily ingest whatever Mrs. Williams is serving! This book will easily fall into the category of “best book you’ll read this year.” Enjoy!

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