Sunday, October 11, 2020

My Bookish Mewsings: Mexican Gothic / The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires / The Family Next Door

The parties at the Tunons' house always ended unquestionably late, and since the hosts enjoyed  costume parties in particular, it was not unusual to see Chinas Poblanas with their folklore skirts and ribbons in their hair arrive in the company of a harlequin or a cowboy. 
~ Opening of Mexican Gothic

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Del Rey, 2020
Horror/Historical Fiction; 320 pgs
Source: NetGalley for an honest review

Set in the 1950's, a young free-spirited socialite travels to a remote Mexican countryside to visit her cousin and her cousin's new English husband and his family.  Her cousin's letters have been quite concerning, and Noemí worries over her cousin's health and sanity. Noemí is quite out of place at High Place, with her fancy dresses and debutante air. High Place is rather dark and damp with strict rules in place. The servants seems listless and withdrawn. It is clear she is not welcome. Even the house is unwelcoming, invading her dreams with nightmarish images. The ancient patriarch who has taken a particular interest in Noemí, makes her feel extremely uncomfortable. Noemí finds a sympathetic ally in the family's youngest son, Francis, only he holds tight onto his family's secrets. Noemí knows she must uncover the truth in order to save her cousin--and herself. 

Mexican Gothic is an imaginative and atmospheric tale with an underlying tension that builds with each turn of the page and eventually grabs hold of the reader and will not let go. Mexican folklore as well as  the history of the region are woven throughout, adding to the richness of the story. It was especially interesting to see how the author used such threads to weave together the history of High Place, the family's mining business, the curse, and there rise and fall over the years. It was as fascinating as it was disturbing. 

Noemí is one of those characters who grew on me over time. She is clever and smart and does not give up easily. The juxtaposition of the life Noemí leads normally to the life she suddenly finds herself in at High Place is a study in contrast of culture and lifestyle. The imagery and detail Silvia Moreno-Garcia uses paints such a vivid impression of the setting and characters. I found the novel to be at times sad and other times horrifying. This is one of those books I do not want to say too much about because the experience is in reading it. I did not find Mexican Gothic to be a fast paced read, but rather one I wanted to take my time with and savor. 

This story ends in blood.
 ~ Opening of The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires 

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
Quirk Books, 2020
Horror; 400 pgs
Source: NetGalley for an honest review
Patricia Campbell had always planned for a big life, but after giving up her career as a nurse to marry an ambitious doctor and become a mother, Patricia's life has never felt smaller. The days are long, her kids are ungrateful, her husband is distant, and her to-do list is never really done. The one thing she has to look forward to is her book club, a group of Charleston mothers united only by their love for true-crime and suspenseful fiction. In these meetings, they're more likely to discuss the FBI's recent siege of Waco as much as the ups and downs of marriage and motherhood.

But when an artistic and sensitive stranger moves into the neighborhood, the book club's meetings turn into speculation about the newcomer. Patricia is initially attracted to him, but when some local children go missing, she starts to suspect the newcomer is involved. She begins her own investigation, assuming that he's a Jeffrey Dahmer or Ted Bundy. What she uncovers is far more terrifying, and soon she--and her book club--are the only people standing between the monster they've invited into their homes and their unsuspecting community. [Goodreads Summary]

I admit it. I wanted to read The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires solely because of the title. I had read something when I was first considering reading the novel about the author and his penchant for mixing satire into his stories, which also appealed to me. I am so glad I took a chance on this book. It was entertaining, creepy, and fun.

At times cringe-worthy and extremely disturbing, there were many more moments in which the horror elements were more subtle. It's in those moments that the tension builds up the most, leaving Patricia and the reader a little off balance. I really felt for Patricia, not only knowing something was terribly wrong with her neighbor and the threat he may pose to her and her family as well as the rest of the community, but also most people not really believing her and making her think she was going crazy. 

Grady Hendrix's portrayal of vampires is one straight out of nightmares, both seductive and as leeches. It is much darker and more insidious than that of Bram Stoker's Dracula. I found the backstory particularly interesting, especially in comparison to the novel's present day events--and how closely they mirrored each other. 

My blood boiled quite a bit at the treatment of Patricia by her husband. A bit of satire on the author's part, portraying life in the white suburbs, the wives expected to stay in their place. Monsters come in all forms, even the human variety. There are several strong women featured in the novel who turn the idea of helpless little housewife on its ear. I appreciated that the author does not shy away from tackling not just sexism, but racism as well. 

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires turned out to be all I hoped it would be and more.

At first, the children were laughing. 
~ Opening of The Family Next Door

The Family Next Door by Fiona Cummins
Pinnacle Books, 2020
Crime Fiction/Thriller; 400 pgs
Source: NetGalley for an honest review
For Sale: Lovely family home, ready for your updates. Friendly neighborhood setting close to park; secluded.

If not for the bodies discovered in the woods behind their new home, Garrick and Olivia Lockwood couldn't have afforded to buy number 25 The Avenue. It's the fresh start they and their two children badly need. Soon, these terrible crimes will be solved, they tell themselves, and once Garrick has remodeled, he's confident they'll sell the house for a profit.

But the darkest secrets can reside on quiet, ordinary streets like this--behind the doors of well-kept houses and neighbors' friendly faces. Secrets that can destroy a family, or savagely end a life, and will surface just when they're least expected . . . [Goodreads Summary]

There is nothing like an attention-grabbing thriller that once you start reading, you do not want to put down, and so I decided to take a chance on Fiona Cummins' The Family Next Door. Unfortunately this didn't quite hold my interest the way I hoped.

Everyone in this neighborhood seems to have their secrets, some darker than others. A serial killer is on the loose and the most recent victim was the husband of DCI Wildeve Stanton, both police officers assigned to the case. Having stalled in their investigation, the police are desperate for a lead. Each of the dead have their faces painted and are dressed immaculately, earning the killer the nickname  of the Dollmaker. 

The narrative alternates between the killer and other residents in the neighborhood, several of whom could be behind the deaths. I never felt like I got to know any of the characters to any real degree, perhaps because there were so many. It was not too hard to figure out who was behind everything, but there was plenty of suspense and tension throughout, especially the closer we get to the reveal. During the early parts of the book, I found myself wondering where the story was going, and was glad when the pieces finally started coming together. While I did enjoy The Family Next Door to a certain extent, it did not completely win me over in the end.

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  1. Great review of Mexican Gothic! I really loved the atmosphere of the book - just the right amount of horror for me (and personally, some of the attitudes were more horrifying than the otherworldly stuff :p)

    1. Eustacia - Thank you! I'm with you. I thought the attitudes were more horrifying to some extent!

  2. I love when characters grow on you. I'll have to look at Mexican Gothic. And I love the sound of The Family Next Door. A good thriller is such fun even when a bit dark.

    1. Katherine - I hope you enjoy both Mexican Gothic and The Family Next Door if you read them!

  3. So many good books to little time! :)

  4. I really loved Mexican Gothic. I kind of wished I had saved it for closer to Halloween just because it's so creepy and atmospheric. I'm glad to hear the Vampire book was a great read for you. I'm hoping to fit that one in this month.

    1. Suzanne - Mexican Gothic would make a great Halloween type read. I hope you enjoy The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires when you read it.

  5. I'm intrigued by Mexican Gothic. And I've a copy of The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires so I'm looking forward to reading it at some point.

  6. I preordered Mexican Gothic but haven't had a chance to read it yet! I absolutely loved Gods of Jade and Shadow, so I'm sure I'll enjoy this one too. :)

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? 💬

    1. I hope you enjoy Mexican Gothic when you read it. I haven't read her Gods of Jade and Shadow, but I have it on my TBR shelf to read. I am glad to hear you loved that one.

  7. when I first heard about the Vampires book I wasn't too keen but now I really want to read. And, definitely Mexican Gothic is on my TBR pile. So many books and not enough time for sure!

    1. Iliana - I wasn't sure about The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires at first either, but I'm so glad I took the chance on it.


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