Book Review: “The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires” by Grady Hendrix

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Have you ever read the title of a book and thought: “This was made for me?” That’s what happened when I saw The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires on a list of new books coming out in 2020. I was pretty sure that author Grady Hendrix had been watching me as I binged Buffy The Vampire Slayer, read any of Anne Rices’ vampire chronicles I could get through Interlibrary Loan, and attended my library team’s book club in a Southern state. In other words, I felt attacked.

Because apparently clever titles make me open my wallet, I bought The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires as soon as it came back in stock (it was sold out instantly on indie bookstore websites). I waited two days with the book sitting on my desk at home because you’re supposed to quarantine books in case of COVID-19 traces. Finally, I curled up on the couch by my husband, cracked open the spine, and settled in. A few hours later, I slammed the book shut dramatically and told my husband everything about it. I don’t usually read books in one sitting unless I absolutely can’t put them down, and this was one of those special stories that actually lived up to its title and cover.

Spoiler-free summary before you read further: this novel is about exactly what the title says it’s about.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires gets right: This is one of those rare books where a man author actually wrote from the perspective of amazing women characters with understanding, wit, and great empathy. The main character, Patricia, was so relatable and heartbreaking as she shouldered all of the emotional labor (and literal physical security) for her household that I was pleasantly shocked to find out that the author was a man. Her sense of guilt that she’s not doing enough for everyone in her life was palpable. Yet as Patricia slowly makes strong friendships with the women in her book club and in her own home, she begins to emerge as a fiercely driven, free-thinking character that still has plenty of flaws. For a fictional character in a horror novel, she’s pretty real.

Patricia’s characterization shines against the foil of her husband, Carter, who acts as if Patricia is crazy, cheats on her repeatedly, and snuggles up to the main villain of the story just because he makes a lot of money. It’s frustrating to read about, but don’t worry- there is some justice. I’ll give Carter this- he made me hate him more than the actual vampire in this book; Carter is like the Umbridge of this novel.

This is not just a book about Southern true crime-loving women, although that part is definitely awesome and I 100% want to talk with them about Helter Skelter. This book tackles gentrification, racial injustice, sexism, gaslighting, and vampires all in one story, and it does this flawlessly. You will be thrilled, shocked, and horrified all at once. I certainly was.

What The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires gets wrong: There are a few moments that seem a little tone-deaf. Racism thrives in the town’s community, and while it is addressed and called out as wrong, it is disappointing how the main black character, Mrs. Greene, has to save herself and the white women again and again without any help while her neighborhood suffers. There’s a big message here about acting like you can’t see the problems of others as long as you and your family are safe.

Who should read The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires: If you’re a Southern lady in a book club with a bent for true crime, obviously pick this one up. However, men and non-Southern women will also enjoy this novel if they are fans of horror, suspense, vampires, and humor.

Who shouldn’t read The Southern Book Club’s Guide To Slaying Vampires: This novel is best for mature audiences.

 

The library doesn’t currently have this book, but you can request it through Interlibrary Loan once it is safe to do so, or you can check for it at your local library.

Content note: language, brief sexual scenes, emotional abuse, violence, racism, sexual assault, attempted suicide. Reader discretion is advised.

Book Review: “Educated” by Tara Westover

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Educated took the book-loving world by storm when it was published in 2018. It’s also been consistently checked out from the library since we ordered it. In this powerful memoir, Tara Westover describes her unconventional upbringing and how finally gaining access to formal education changed her life.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What Educated does right: Westover’s story is heartbreaking, but it needs to be told. You’ll learn about the horrors of family violence, abuse, undiagnosed mental illness, and willful ignorance in this book. However, you’ll also learn about the power of education and the hope for a better tomorrow. The times I teared up from the book were not because of the sad situations (although there were many), but because of how proud I was of Westover for doing well in school, in spite of all odds.

What Educated gets wrong: This is not a critique of the book (it’s hard to critique memoirs from a content standpoint anyway), but more of a warning for readers: this one will hurt you. My student assistant, Mya, warned me that I would be angry while reading this book, and she was 100% right. There’s a lot of misinformation and injustice regarding Tara Westover’s family and upbringing.

For example (spoiler): the Westovers survive a bad car wreck but don’t go to the hospital due to their distrust of the “medical establishment,” which results in serious trauma and long-term injuries. So what do they do the next time they’re driving on a long trip? They let the dad take the wheel; he drives super fast to prove a dumb point; and then they have ANOTHER deadly car wreck in which, guess what, they don’t seek medical attention AGAIN. It’s infuriating to read this through the lens of a brainwashed child who knows something isn’t quite right, but who can’t articulate what it is and defends her father even though he constantly endangers her life. It’s even sadder when she’s old enough and educated enough to know that her family is not treating her the way they should, but she still reaches out to them and tries to help them even as they destroy her.

Who should read Educated: Fans of true stories. Family members who have lived with and understand serious mental illnesses. Teachers of rural children. Anyone who wants to know how NOT to raise your child (like, living in a rural area is totally fine, but throwing scrap metal at your child is not).

Who shouldn’t read Educated: If your blood pressure goes up every time you read about children in danger (like mine does), think twice before picking this one up. The negligent and downright abusive way that these children were raised is mind-blowing.

Library Staff Picks: What Are We Reading In 2020?

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A new year brings with it new reading challenges! Whether you want to read one book or fifty this year, the library has many for you to choose from. Need inspiration? Take a look at what the library staff are excited to read in 2020!

 

Melissa Moore, Library Director:

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Becoming C.S. Lewis by Hal Poe

 

Olivia Chin, Circulation Manager:

Home by Toni Morrison

The Female Experience: An American Documentary by Gerda Lerner

American Predator by Maureen Callahan

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami

Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon

 

Mya Putman, Student Assistant:

The Giver quartet by Lois Lowry

 

Stephen Mount, Systems Librarian:

1984 by George Orwell

Any book by Harlan Coben

 

Rachel Bloomingburg, Evening Circulation Supervisor:

Stepsister by Jennifer Donnelly

Colors of Truth by Tamera Alexander

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

 

 

 

Top 5 Recent Bestsellers At The Library

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Since the Union library is an academic one, the books we have on our shelves are primarily for research and school-related purposes. However, we also have some “fun reads” and bestsellers in our Recreational Reading section (which is on the 2nd floor near the DVDs). Several of these bestsellers have been popular here at the library, appearing on our most checked out items list for several months now. You can find brief descriptions of them, as well as links to where they are located in the library, below:

 

Educated by Tara Westover

Publication Year: 2018

Genre: Memoir

Description: Tara Westover describes her upbringing in an isolated, survivalist family who did not trust conventional schools or medicine. Westover eventually went to college and learned about the world beyond her mountains.

 

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Publication Year: 2018

Genre: Mystery

Description: The “Marsh Girl” is a local legend in Barkley Cove, North Carolina. This mysterious figure emerges in the midst of local crime.

 

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Publication Year: 2019

Genre: Historical fiction

Description: Two boys struggle to survive the horrors of their juvenile reformatory and racism in the Jim Crow era.

 

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Publication Year: 2018

Genre: Historical fiction

Description: A family moves to Alaska in the 1970’s and deals with harsh wilderness, PTSD, and complicated relationships.

 

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Publication Year: 2019

Genre: Dystopian fiction

Description: More than 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale, the oppressive Gilead regime is still standing- but there are signs that it is beginning to rot from within. (You can read our review of The Testaments here.)

 

 

 

Book Review: “The Testaments” by Margaret Atwood

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Have you ever read a book, gotten to the end, and then thought, “WHAT? What’s going to happen next?” The Handmaid’s Tale will make you do that.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is known as a modern classic. Written in 1985, this novel is about an alternate society, Gilead, that runs an oppressive regime against women. Women are forced into different social classes. Some of the main ones mentioned are:

  • Handmaids (essentially surrogate mothers for Wives who can’t naturally have children)
  • Marthas (serving women)
  • Aunts (ruling women who make sure the others are put in their place)
  • Wives (married and subordinate to husbands, who rule over Gilead)

Without giving too much away, The Handmaid’s Tale ends on an exciting cliffhanger. And for 34 years, there was nothing else written about it.

Until now: enter The Testaments, the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. I think it came as a surprise to most readers when Margaret Atwood announced that there was, at long last, another book in the Handmaid universe. At the time of my writing, The Testaments is currently the top bestselling book in the U.S. I couldn’t wait to read it, so I snatched it up as soon as the library’s copy came in (sorry).

*There are minor spoilers ahead, so be aware.

 

What The Testaments gets right: It’s downright chilling how the global problems in the book echo the ones in real life. I’m sure Atwood did that on purpose, but still. It’s always eerie when a fictional dystopia has a little too much in common with the real world.

The Testaments tells its story with three different narrators: Aunt Lydia, Daisy, and Agnes Jemima. Each woman has played a different part in the system of Gilead- one helped enforce it, one suffered from it, and one lived outside of it. Through their perspectives, we get a more complete picture of the political climate surrounding Gilead. For instance, the other countries don’t like Gilead. There are protests everywhere, the global climate is falling apart, and there’s an Underground Femaleroad that women can use to escape from Gilead- if they’re not caught and punished.

So much of what happens to these women is staggeringly upsetting. In fact, much of their suffering is unique to simply being a woman (such as purposefully being denied feminine products while in captivity), which is something I haven’t read much about in other dystopias. The Testaments is a great reminder to not take the little things in life for granted (or the big things either, like freedom of speech, freedom to own property, and the freedom to vote, which are denied these women).

Even though The Testaments was often hard to read because of the mistreatment of women, I loved this book. I read a review in The Guardian where a reader said that she felt like the book was talking directly to her, and that’s exactly how I felt, too. Margaret Atwood really knows how to pull you in and make you think with her writing. She might make you cry, too- I did.

 

What The Testaments does wrong: The Testaments is more heavy-handed and political than The Handmaid’s Tale, largely due to the different narrators and their positions in society. The narrators in the sequel are more self-aware and have years of perspective to look back on, while Offred from the original book lived more in the moment, which didn’t allow her to think about much more beyond her own strategies to stay alive and undetected. She often thought about her lost past, but it was less in political terms and more personal. We had access to her thoughts and suppressed feelings, and we as readers knew less about the wider scope of things that The Testaments gives us.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with The Testaments being more obvious in tone- in fact, many might say that this kind of tone is needed right now- but I missed the personal horror of The Handmaid’s Tale. The Handmaid’s Tale had so many subtle moments that made me double take and reread, as well as blatant anti-woman tactics. The Testaments stays fairly blatant throughout the whole book- which, again, could be due to the fact that we as readers already know all about about Gilead and its evil because of The Handmaid’s Tale. The Testaments doesn’t have to be subtle because, as the saying goes, The Handmaid’s Tale walked so The Testaments could run.

 

Who should read The Testaments: Older teenagers and adults, especially people who have read and enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale.

 

Who shouldn’t read The Testaments: Younger teenagers and children. It’s too mature in theme for them to fully understand.

 

Content note & mild spoilers: There are sad (but fairly brief) recollections of sexual and physical abuse in The Testaments, as well as some language. This is a heavy book.

 

 

 

 

Library Staff Picks: What’s On Your “To Be Read” List?

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For some people, the “to be read” (or TBR) pile of books never stops growing. But what if you’re still looking for something else to read? The library staff are happy to share the books that they are planning to read next- and who knows, you may see some book reviews of these in the future, once we’ve read them!

 

TBR Lists Below

Olivia Chin, Circulation Manager:

  • Next up for Olivia Chin is the fourth book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Feast For Crows. She is hoping to finish the current books in the series this fall; she’s also hoping that George R.R. Martin finishes writing the last two books!
  • Olivia is also looking forward to reading the true-crime biography Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson by Jeff Guinn (which she’s ordered through Interlibrary Loan).
  • And she’d like to finally read the thriller Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

 

Amber Wessies, Instruction Librarian:

 

Matthew Beyer, Library Associate:

 

Shelby Lucius, Student Assistant:

 

 

Book Review: “On Reading Well” by Karen Swallow Prior

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I took the English class “Literary Criticism” in 2012. This class taught me how people have interpreted literature over the years- whether they’re looking at what the author intended, how the text affects the reader, or how the text stands completely on its own. While diving into Derrida and other writer-philosophers like him could be confusing, I always appreciated learning why we read the way we do and how we figure out just what books are trying to tell us.

On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books is about literary criticism, but it’s not just for English majors. The author, Karen Swallow Prior, makes classic books accessible to people who may not have read them before or only have a passing knowledge of them. Prior strives to teach us that it’s not enough to read widely- we have to read well. She examines the virtues present in different stories and how we can learn from them.

What On Reading Well gets right: Prior called me out on reading too quickly. Too often I fly through books because I’m trying to get to the next one on my list, when really I should slow down and engage with the text. On Reading Well reminds us how to read and actually learn from what we’re reading.

Prior does a great job of connecting virtues, such as temperance and prudence, with literary, historical, personal, and pop culture examples. She looks at popular and formative books such as Silence, The Road, and Persuasion. This makes On Reading Well a treasure trove of experience. Plus, Bible verses are frequently referenced to help the reader understand and place the virtues in context. You will definitely be encouraged to think by this book!

What On Reading Well gets wrong: It’s certainly not a crime for a book to contain academic references and notes. However, I think On Reading Well was marketed to appear as more of a fun, albeit educational, book than it truly is.  Prior quotes extensively from other authors and thinkers, especially when she’s defining each virtue, and the little notations by each quote can get distracting if you’re trying to read for pleasure rather than for research.

Who should read On Reading Well: Anyone who appreciates literature and, in particular, taking a moral lens to literature. People who are interested in connecting stories with biblical principles. English students looking for accessible literary research and references.

Who shouldn’t read On Reading Well: Scholars who reject taking a moral lens to literature (On Reading Well mentions other forms of literary criticism but does not espouse them; this book sticks strictly to Sir Philip Sidney’s views). People who would rather read a book with less of an academic tone.

 

You can check out On Reading Well from the library.

How To Find New Books At The Library

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Want to see the latest books that we’ve purchased? We have 3 different ways that you can see new books at the library!

 

The New Books Shelf

Did you know that we have a special section for the new books we acquire? The New Books Section is located on the second floor of the Logos. The shelves include selected titles on display, and each new book is marked with a green sticker on its spine indicating the date of its acquisition. The New Books Section makes it easier to browse the latest books by shelving them in a group together for a time.

 

The New Books List (On Our Website)

We keep an updated list of our new books and movies on our website. You can find the link to this list under the “Quick Links” section of the website’s homepage; or just click here!

 

Scrolling New eBooks

The new eBooks that we’ve purchased can be seen on the library website’s homepage. They automatically scroll across the screen just below the library chat box.

 

If you need any help finding the new books, ask a library team member at our Circulation Desk or our Research Desk!

Book Review: “The Bigfoot Files” by Lindsay Eagar

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The Bigfoot Files by Lindsay Eagar is a new middle-grade book at the library. Miranda Cho is a young girl with big aspirations and anxiety; she struggles to cope with her mom’s Bigfoot obsession and frequent travel (which makes Miranda miss school).

 

What The Bigfoot Files does right: Miranda has “to make things perfect. Even if other elements of her life threatened to ruin everything.” She struggles with Trichotillomania, a hair-pulling disorder, and her anxiety is often worsened by her mom’s inconstancy. Miranda’s desire to do her best, coupled with her fractured home life, make her a sympathetic character. She’s only 12, and yet she feels like she has the whole world on her shoulders.

The sense of “what if” is fun to read about, even as Miranda tries to deny the existence of cryptozoology animals. I also appreciated the Bigfoot clues that Miranda and Kat find, as my dad often looked for the same signs in real life. The author did her research!

What The Bigfoot Files gets wrong: This is more of an editing issue, but some of the wording is a little confusing. British words and spellings are used throughout the book- like “crisps” instead of “chips.” There’s nothing wrong with the British dialect, but it’s confusing because the book’s setting is in the United States. I kept wondering if Miranda and her mother were British immigrants, since Miranda called Kat “mum” so often. The characters’ dialect does not match where they are from, and there is no explanation given for this, so it might take you out of the story at times.

Who should read The Bigfoot Files: Anyone who enjoys biology and botany- the nature descriptions are spot-on. People who like stories about mothers and daughters with a little mystery thrown in.

Who shouldn’t read The Bigfoot Files: If you don’t enjoy woodsy descriptions, then this book is probably not for you. Most of The Bigfoot Files takes place in a national park.

 

The Bigfoot Files is available in the library’s Family Room.

Featured Book: “Unexpected Art”

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What would you do if, one day, you saw a giant rubber duck on top of the Bowld? Would you assume that it’s an art project?

The book Unexpected Art shows us beautiful photographs of art installations all over the world. These installations can be surprising and are often a part of the local landscape. The artists want their art to be seen and enjoyed by the people around them, and so they have brought their art to the public space.

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Unexpected Art showcases work by Adel Abdessemed, Amanda Browder, Nick Cave, Myoung Ho Lee, Cornelia Konrads, and many more. You’ll see all kinds of creative pieces, from wallpapered dumpsters to aluminum landscapes to giant rubber duckies. This book is fun to flip through, but you can also read about how each artist made their art and why they made it that way.

You can check out Unexpected Art from the library!