The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying VampiresThe Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another fantastic novel from Grady Hendrix. THE SOUTHERN BOOK CLUB’S GUIDE TO SLAYING VAMPIRES is brimming with his signature mix of humor, horror, and heart. Well-drawn characters, a strong and authentic sense of place, and an original take on vampire lore conspire to make this novel a treat. Hendrix just keeps getting better and better!

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Father Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism

Father Gaetano's Puppet Catechism: A NovellaFather Gaetano’s Puppet Catechism: A Novella by Mike Mignola
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an enjoyable and breezy tale that is, at heart, about the toll of war on a nation and its children, couched in a religious discussion of free will and responsibility, and topped off with some creepy puppet action. Golden and Mignola do a good job setting up the characters, particularly Father Gaetano as the new priest at a Catholic orphanage full of children who’ve lost their families to the war, a man who never doubts his service to God but who is also subject to some very human feelings of frustration, irritability, and desire. There is a sly rebuttal to the idea of free will built into the story, as even when the puppets lose their strings they are still rigidly beholden to what they were made to be, but that may be over-interpreting the authors’ intent. Ultimately, FATHER GAETANO’S PUPPET CATECHISM is a story more full of wonder and awe than horror or nihilism. Mignola’s illustrations throughout are charming. The book’s short length works to its advantage as well, keeping things moving at a good pace while never sacrificing character for plot. A fun, quick read.

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The Darkest Part of the Woods

The Darkest Part of the WoodsThe Darkest Part of the Woods by Ramsey Campbell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As other reviewers have pointed out, THE DARKEST PART OF THE WOODS moves at a snail’s pace. I’ll admit there were times, particularly in the first half, when I almost put the novel down for good. I also found it overwritten. Not every description has to include a metaphor or simile involving trees, and yet page after page, I encountered them over and over again like a thematic sledgehammer. As with the pacing issue, this led to occasions when I felt myself fighting to keep reading.

However, if you prune away (ha ha) all the elements that slow this novel down, at its center is a compelling cosmic-horror tale about a haunted forest with its own dark intelligence, and the legacy of a magician who tried and failed to turn that intelligence to his own purposes. Strange inhuman creatures abound on the periphery of the story, along with madness and terrible family secrets, only hints of which emerge in the telling.

I’m glad I didn’t give up and kept reading all the way to the end, but I’m not going to pretend it kept my attention throughout. Do I recommend it? Yes, but only for readers with patience. If you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller, you may want to look elsewhere.

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Black Mad Wheel

Black Mad WheelBlack Mad Wheel by Josh Malerman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Josh Malerman has one of the most creative imaginations working in horror fiction today. He proved that with his debut novel, BIRD BOX, and he proves it again with BLACK MAD WHEEL. The concept of a mysterious sound in the Namib desert that can kill you, among other things, is thoroughly original. I found the characters realistic and compelling, Philip and Ellen in particular. As with BIRD BOX, Malerman’s sparse writing style takes some getting used to, but I never felt lost or anything but immersed in the world of the novel. BLACK MAD WHEEL is a page-turner, and Malerman is quickly becoming a new favorite author.

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