Audiobook Review: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing (April 7, 2020)
Length: 13 hrs and 49 mins
Narrator: Bahni Turpin
Grady Hendrix’s books are always such a joy to read, combining humor and horror with just the right amount of weirdness and even a touch of the disturbing. Once more, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is no exception, and it might even be my favorite book by the author so far.
Our story opens on a closely-knit neighborhood in South Carolina sometime in the late 1980s. Patricia Campbell is our protagonist, a stressed out and overworked mom and homemaker who should have known better than to join a book club. Between the household chores, afterschool activities, doctor’s appointments, teacher conferences, vet visits, shopping trips, and millions of other little errands on her to-do list, she barely has time to read beyond the first page of this month’s pick, Cry, The Beloved Country. Normally, this wouldn’t be such a big deal…except she’s supposed to be leading the discussion at the club’s next meetup! After attempting to and failing to wing it, however, Patricia realizes that it’s not her lack of time that’s the problem, it’s the classic books they are forced to read. She’d so much rather be burying her nose in true crime or horror, so together with her fellow friends and stay-at-home moms, they started their own book club, reading only what they want to read while letting their husbands think they are a Bible study group.
Other than that though, life in the neighborhood is predictable as usual. That is, until a newcomer moves in across the street. James Harris claims to have arrived in town to take care of an elderly relative, but after they passed away, he decided to stay and put down roots. No one knows where he came from, but he has a lot of money and is well-connected. He quickly insinuates himself into the old boys’ club made up of the neighborhood men, charming his way into their businesses and lives. Despite this, Patricia senses something not quite right about James, and suspects he has something to do with some local children that have gone missing. Unfortunately, no one will believe her, not even her closest friends. Deep in her heart, Patricia knows she’s right, but how will she get others to listen?
The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is my fourth book by Grady Hendrix, and like I said, it is probably my favorite of his so far, for several reasons. First of all, I felt an immediate connection to the main character, a mom whose workload and responsibilities never seems to end! Motherhood is an unending list of chores to do, errands to run, not to mention kids to feed, clothe, house, and shuttle back and forth to wherever they need to be. They’re not always the most thankful either, so I can relate. Plus, like Patricia, I love a good book and the satisfaction of letting one transport me to another world. Still, there were many aspects about our protagonist’s life that were new and fascinating to me too, such as her southern traditions and the fact her world felt distinctively late 80s/early 90s. It was a different time, and there were expectations for women like her to act and live a certain way.
Another thing I loved was the story. In a word, it was fun. Creepy too, at times. Of course, I would expect nothing less from a horror novel, except Grady Hendrix always brings his own unique brand of quirk to his work. You’ll get that here in spades, making this one a vampire book like no other, even though there’ll be plenty of classic Dracula references to tide you over (this is a book about a book club, after all). When it does its scary thing though, this book is nuts with the ick-factor and going overboard with the truly gruesome and macabre. Juxtaposed with the southern hospitality and the well-kept homes and manicured lawns, it just makes the horror even more pronounced with the overall wrongness of it all.
But now for the criticisms. None of these are dealbreakers by any means, but I’ve noticed how some of keep popping up again and again in the author’s books. One is the issue of cohesiveness. Hendrix’s stories feel like a bunch of pieces thrown together, and while most of these fit together the way they’re supposed to, every once in a while you’ll get a few plot orphans that go nowhere or they seem to hang untethered like a loose thread. One reason for this is the awkwardness of transitions, particularly the one big jump in time that occurs around halfway through the book. Also, the ending is just awful, anti-climactic and not very fitting. It’s like the author suddenly decided to throw as much blood as possible into the mix, and I’m just here shaking my head thinking, shock value does not a good ending make.
But overall, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires was an entertaining read, no doubt about that. It was even more enjoyable in audiobook format, narrated by the incredible Bahni Turpin. I’ve listened to her narration on other books, but this was by far one of her best performances, considering the wide range of voices belonging to characters varying in age, gender, race, and class that she had to portray. Just a spot on and pitch perfect narration which I can’t praise or recommend highly enough.