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review 2020-05-09 13:18
"The Southern Book Club's Guide To Slaying Vampires" by Grady Hendrix - highly recommended
The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires: A Novel - Grady Hendrix,Bahni Turpin

From the title, I assumed 'The Southern Book Club's Guide To Slaying Vampires' would be a soft, fluffy story. Boy was I wrong about that.


To be fair to myself, while my reading before Grady Hendrix had told me that vampires, (except for the sparkly vegetarian ones) were scary predators, it had also told me that they'd be kept in check by:

  • A Vampire Council committed to maintaining secrecy
  • Other supernats committed to maintaining secrecy
  • 'Have Stakes. Will Travel' vampire hunters for hire
  • A teenage girl with exceptional martial arts skills and a devoted set of friends

So I tended not to worry about them too much.


Grady Hendrix rejects all of that, His vampire is a lone, ungoverned, insatiable predator who won't be stopped except by desperate, ordinary people who have nothing to lose and it won't be easy.


One of the things that will make it difficult is that ordinary people like you and me, we don't really believe in vampires any more than we believe in Tinkerbell.


Hendrix poses the question, 'How do you fight what you believe isn't real?'


Part of the answer to that question is likely to be 'Alone', because who's going to believe you?


Except maybe the women you meet every week at a book club devoted to discussing serial killers?


This way of looking at vampires makes them a lot more threatening.


At the start of the book, I assumed, wrongly, that all that was needed was for the women to form their own Scooby-gang and the vampire would be done for. At that point, the vampire seemed menacing but no more than that. Once he was unmasked, what harm could he do?


Grady Hendrix didn't make it that easy.


I raised my threat assessment level when the vampire sent killer rats to swarm helpless women in their own homes but I didn't really understand what I was dealing with until two of the middle-class white women from the book club went to visit the home of the black nurse who was hurt in that attack. While they were waiting to be let in they heard little girls singing a skipping song about the Boo Daddy who is coming at night to steal children. The matter-of-fact tone of that song and the internalised fear it represented was more chilling than the rats.


I knew then that Hendrix wasn't just talking about vampires here, or perhaps it's more accurate to say that the vampire isn't just a vampire. The vampire is an evil that lurks beneath the surface of our society but that we don't talk about.


I think the Boo Daddy that the children sing about and that the adults put effort into not seeing, represents the white male predators who move unpunished through our world because we don't believe that racial hatred, misogyny, and twisted lust will really rip away the lives and happiness of the people we love. We tell ourselves that ours is not a culture that condones rape and abuse and killing, even though all the numbers tell us a different story.


Hendrix's vampire is an embodiment of insatiable male greed. He's charming and charismatic, has the knack of making the men around him want to follow him and feel better about themselves for doing so, even as he takes every opportunity, politely and with a smile, to undermine, demean, mock and threaten their wives. He is a corrupter, a sower of discord, a parasite.


Hendrix's vampire isn't some stuffy Transilvanian Count pining for his glory days, he is 100% Pure American Prime Raggedy Man. He's the hustle that has always sold the American dream without ever delivering it.


Men don't come out of this story well. For me, one of the most disturbing scenes in the book was where the husbands of the women in the book club behave (entirely believably, I'm afraid) like a group of pompous, patronising, patriarchal pricks, treating their assembled wives like children needing correction from wiser heads. This scene made me think that the women should make the suspected vampire a second priority and come together to devise a way of teaching their husbands the need to respect the women they're married to. Except, most of the ways I could immediately think of to do that would have turned the women into widows.


It's that mix of fury and impotence that sets the tone of this story.


What I liked most about the story was its message that knowing the vampire is there, knowing who he is and what he does, isn't enough to defeat him or even to convince the people who love you to help you because this vampire has seduced not the women but the men. He's turned them into the worst version of themselves and used them as a rod to impose his authority. Any woman who stands against him risks losing everything and with no guarantee of success.


Look around the world today. The vampires are there in plain sight shielded by men who admire them and who are willing to look the other way while they prey on the weak.


I think Hendrix is telling us that the only way to stop these predatory white men is for ordinary women, the mothers who protect all of us, to acknowledge the existence of the Boo Daddy and work together to rip out its heart. He's also telling us that that kind of thing has a price that has to be paid for in blood, lots of blood, some of it your own.


I recommend the audiobook version which is perfectly delivered by  Bahni Turpin. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.

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review 2020-04-15 12:30
"A Bad Day For Sunshine" by Darynda Jones - a great Lockdown read
A Bad Day for Sunshine - Darynda Jones,Lorelei King

This was a great read for my fourth week in Lockdown when I needed a book to escape into that would make me smile, keep me engaged, give me a puzzle to solve and people to cheer for.


I pre-ordered "A Bad Day For Sunshine", even though I wasn't a fan of Darynda Jone's Charlie Davidson series because it left the supernatural stuff behind and didn't seem to be aimed mainly at the YA market.


I also liked the premise: Sunshine Vikram returns to her home town of Del Sol, that she left when she was seventeen, to take up the job of Sherrif, an office she was elected to in absentia via a mysterious means used by her parents. She brings with her her fourteen-year-old daughter, a dark personal history and a secret determination to hunt down the man whose actions changed her life.


This is a book that, to be enjoyed, has to be accepted on its own terms. You need to be ok with a plot with an improbable dependence on co-incidence and interlocking, very dramatic and long-held-secret past events in a decidedly odd small town in New Mexico and to be entertained by fast, witty banter, bizarre quotes at the beginning of each chapter (my favourite was 'Predictive text: our own worst enema'), quirky crimes and a lot of not-entirely-serious drooling over the (many, many,) well-put-together men Sunshine encounters. Most importantly, you need to like Sunshine and her daughter Ari.


Fortunately, this last is not difficult. I liked Sunshine and lot and Ari almost as much. Think 'The Gilmore Girls' and add a deeply traumatising past and a tendency for both mother and daughter to put themselves in danger when they think it's the right thing to do.


Women are at the heart of this story. Women who want a world that is populated by 'men who deserve them' rather than by assholes and predators who need to be guarded against.


The characters are strong, if not particularly original. The plot, which centres around the abduction of a teen girl, has quite a few surprising twists. The pace is fast, the violence is moderate, the sex is mostly PG and the humour... well, it worked for me. If I lived in a small town in New Mexico, I'd want Sunshine Vikram to by my Sherrif.

I had a great time with this book. It was a splendid distraction from the present unpleasantness and I'm now hooked on the series.


I strongly recommend the audiobook version of "A Bad Day For Sunshine" as Lorelei King's performance is pretty much perfect and swept me along.

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review 2020-03-20 09:55
"Royal Blood - Her Royal Spyness #4" by Rhys Bowen
Royal Blood - Rhys Bowen,Katherine Kellgren

The "Her Royal Spyness" series has become one of my go-to comfort reads when I need something light but not fluffy that I know will have enough of a mystery to keep me curious and more than a few scenes that will make me laugh.


I've also grown attached to all the characters, and yes, it is a stretch that Darcy, Belinda and Georgie's mother always turn up at some point but after a few mock groans, as the plot is twisted to accommodate them, I find myself smiling because I'm glad to have them there. Part of the appeal is the excellent narration from Katherine Kelligran who has given such distinctive voices to the main characters that I recognise them as soon as they speak.


"Royal Blood" livens things up by sending Georgiana as the Queen's representative to a Royal Wedding in Romania. The Queen claims that this is at the request of the bride, who was at school with Georgie, but that doesn't mean she is without an ulterior motive.


We have great fun with a spooky castle, the possibility of vampires, the reality of assassination, a bride who used to be unremarkable and now isn't, the Romanian Secret Police and a chaperone for Georgie who makes Lady Bracknell seem cuddly.

The mystery here is very satisfying, not so easy to work out, lots of credible possible killers and a rising body count.


I liked that we finally get to see Georgiana getting a but more physical this time. She's strong and determined and even when thrown in an oubliette, doesn't wait on someone else to come and rescue her.


Now if only she'd be a little more determined with Darcy things might get even more interesting. Still, maybe that will happen in the next book. Or the one after that? Or the one after that? It's all part of the fun.


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review 2020-02-14 22:00
Dear Committee Members (Schumacher)
Dear Committee Members - Julie Schumacher

Most of the charm of this short, funny book about academia is in the snarkiness and sheer inappropriateness of the letters of reference written by Professor Jason Fitger. These letters of reference form the entire contents of the novel, and it's something of a triumph of ingenuity over form that the novel actually has a bit of a plot, and, by the end, a bit of emotional resonance too.


We discover a fair bit about Fitger as he grumbles, insults and reminisces his way through letters that are only nominally about the students or faculty members he is (nominally) recommending for various jobs, positions or grants - in many cases, recommending them to one of several women with whom he has been romantically involved in the past. What's interesting is that by the end of the novel, we believe we know Fitger a bit better than he knows his self-deprecating self.


Mostly, however, this novel is an endless source of chuckles or occasional outright laughs, especially if you've spent any time in academia at all. Who among the beleaguered reference-writing faculty would not wish to actually be able to write a letter like this? (I'm quoting it in full just for fun):


December 16, 2009
Internship Coordinator
State Senator Pierce Balnearo's Office
The Halls of Power


Honorable Internship Coordinator:


This letter's purpose is to recommend to you - in the capacity of unpaid labor, presumably licking envelopes and knocking on doors - Malinda Heisman, a student in my Multicultural American Literature class. Malinda is an A student, a wide-eyed earnest individual who will undoubtedly benefit from a few months spent among the self-serving pontificates in the senator's office.


Malinda is intelligent; she is organized; she is well spoken. Given her aptitude for research (unlike most undergraduates, she has moved beyond Wikipedia), I am sure that she will soon learn that the senator, his leathern face permanently embossed with a gruesome rictus of feigned cheer, has consistently voted against funds for higher education and has cosponsored multiple narrow-minded backwater proposals that will make it ever more difficult for her to repay the roughly $38,000 in debt that the average graduate of our institution inherits - along with a lovely blue tassel - on the day of commencement.


Malinda's final essay in my class - here it is on my desk, among a cast of thousands - is a windy but assiduous reading of Jamaica Kincaid's "At The Bottom of the River." The essay demonstrates strong writing skills and rigorous thinking. Allow Malinda the privilege of laboring in your office for nothing (she'll probably continue to work nights as a barista in the coffee empire), and I am confident you will be making, though perhaps not in the ways you might have intended, a remarkable contribution to her education.


With all best wishes, I remain
Your devoted public servant,
Jay Fitger, Professor of the Lost Arts
Payne University


I do hope that excerpt will spur some other readers on to discover Julie Schumacher. There's a sequel, "The Shakespeare Requirement", on my tbr shelf, and I'm very much looking forward to reading it.

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review 2020-02-07 06:23
Nora Ephron writes about aging with courage, wit and honesty
I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections - Nora Ephron

I Remember Nothing, by Nora Ephron, is a collection of twenty-three personal reflections that address the many aspects of aging with insight and wit.


The challenges of new technology, a failing memory and the passing of family members are poignant and relatable.


While the piece, Journalism – A Love Story, is a pocket history of the demise of the industry, it’s also a glory-days story, the kind we all love to tell about when we were in our prime and things were different–meaning better.


Other topics discussed include humorous personal peccadilloes and relationships; the temporary, the enduring, how some flourish with time, whiles others become unsustainable.


If you’re honest, and of a certain age, you’ll agree there’s not one good thing to be said about getting old, including admitting to it. In this short book, Nora Ephron faces it head-on and her courage and honesty are an inspiration to this aging reader/writer.



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