Hey gang, it’s Dustin here again for another edition of Recent Reads. For this one, we’re featuring a couple of slashers — you know I love my slashers! — and I tried out something new: a skin-crawling novel from esteemed author, Joyce Carol Oates. Let’s get into it!

Cardinal Rules by Brady Phoenix

Written by author Brady Phoenix, Cardinal Rules is a 2021 slasher novel set during Pride month. Recently-out college student DJ is whisked away by his best friend Aurora, along with her and his sister, Sierra and her friends go to Aurora’s hometown for the local Pride celebration. Little do they know that someone in a cardinal (as in the bird) outfit is after them, picking them off one by one.

As a gay slasher fan, I feel seen by reading such a novel. The kills are aptly bloody and there’s social commentary that’s offered from the perspective of someone within the LGBTQ+ community, lending an air of authenticity. Amidst the blood and gore are call-outs to the toxicity found within the community such as racism, body shaming, and even internalized homophobia. At the same time, it also doesn’t excuse the people who use these toxic traits to discredit the entire community, so you have this package of surprising nuance presented in a readable manner. By that, I mean the book is a pretty quick and easy read. The author’s writing is pretty descriptive yet easy to follow so you get the sense of real-time action instead of the narrative being halted here and there. 

Another thing can also be said about the book’s protagonist, DJ, who I consider to be a blessing and a curse. He reminds me so much of myself when I was still finding out who I was both in my role in the LGBTQ+ community, as well as how I perceive the community. DJ gets mad that certain members of the community let toxicity slide and even comes close to discrediting the whole community because of this. However, as the book goes along he learns more and his views become a bit more nuanced. It reminds me of myself when I was still a “baby gay”, and while I’m still learning a lot DJ’s views give me a mixed vibe, which I both appreciate and have criticism against. And you know what? I think I appreciate this complexity instead of the usual “this character is good” or “this character is bad” that we usually get with slasher stories.

Finally, while I appreciate the gory kills and the stalk-and-slash sequences involving our killer dressed in a unique outfit, I would have preferred if some of the kills had more build-up to them. There were some cases, like the first few kills, where they felt so sudden. They’re still pretty effective but I would’ve personally preferred a little more suspense. By the end, though, our little bird takes flight and goes after our hero and that ramps up tension again.

Overall, Cardinal Rules offers a fresh perspective on the LGBTQ+ community within a slasher story. It left me with food for thought but in digestible servings. I had a love/hate relationship with our protagonist and I appreciated that.

Camp Slaughter by Sergio Gomez

First published in 2019, Camp Slaughter is a slasher book by author Sergio Gomez. It tells the story of a group of college kids who go camping. They’re out for a good time, so while they’ve heard about the local legend of a cannibal in the woods they think nothing of it. Little do they know, the legend is all too real.

I am in love with this book. It nails all the right spots for me as a slasher fan while still having a few pleasant surprises up its leather sleeve. One of the things I liked was the main cast of characters were pretty fleshed out. I found most of them likable and they feel like real people whether you like them or not. They get excited over little things. They get bored. They take pics for the ‘gram. They worry about crushes. Sadly, they also have their own baggages that makes you want to see them overcome. It makes you want to root for them to escape. Even the killer was a pretty compelling character.

The author injected some Mexican culture into the killer’s backstory, which feels authentic, especially as the writer is Mexican. You get elements from slashers like Jason Voorhees and Leatherface. Ignacio Calderon is a big, hulking man with the mind of a child that grew up in less than favoral conditions, to say the least. His alter ego, Varias Caras, is the brains behind their operation — both of them pretty terrifying. While Mr. Gomez does take elements from Jason and Leatherface, the way he takes us into Ignacio’s/Varias Caras’ head to see how he sees and see what he’s been through make a huge difference in making the character feel more original and developed than the aforementioned behemoths in the slasher genre.

As for the kills, Camp Slaughter delivers. You get your usual action with a machete delivered with relentless brutality that simultaneously brings on the camp, the grue, and the horror of it all. You can get descriptions of heads being chopped clean off but the way it’s written still has weight to it. When combined with the character development, it did impact me as a reader, especially in the back half of the book where all bets are off. At first, I was getting a bit confused because of the multitude of characters that we’re following. I got the hang of it after a while but that final act proved to me why all those POV’s are necessary. I wish I could explain more but it’s definitely in the spoiler territory, which I wouldn’t want to divulge to maintain the surprises that this book has.

Overall, run, don’t walk! And get yourself a copy of Camp Slaughter if you are an avid slasher fan. It’s got likable/relatable characters, a menacing yet compelling killer, gory kills, and an unpredictable narrative.

Daddy Love by Joyce Carol Oates

My next recent read is a disturbing horror novel from author Joyce Carol Oates that was first published in 2013 called Daddy Love. It tells the story of young Robbie Whitcomb after being abducted by a child predator while at the mall with his mom, Dinah. From this point, Robbie is now under the captivity of a man who has dubbed himself Daddy Love.

It goes without saying that this book and review come with content warnings for harm against children as well as animals.

This was a pretty gut-wrenching read. What made it “readable” is the author’s restraint from going into extreme or exploitation territory. She assures the reader that the threat to Robbie is always there but is never vivid in describing the actions taken against him. I’ve never read a Joyce Carol Oates book before but she is an author to watch out for. Good thing I bought a bunch of her books, eh?

Nevertheless, this one is not for the faint of heart as I’ve described. For the most part, we get to experience a good chunk of Robbie’s life with Chester Cash aka “Daddy Love”, and it is harrowing. I felt like the writer was able to portray Cash as a thoroughly evil person but also a thoroughly human one, able to charm his way out of suspicion. To think that help for Robbie is so close but just out of reach because of Cash’s grip on him and because he’s able to explain his way out of in-depth discussions. Naturally, it made it easy for Robbie to root for as his encounters with the antagonist are not only physical struggles but also mental ones too. Joyce Carol Oates does a great job putting us in the shoes of the character in focus while remaining in the third person. The Chester Cash chapters feel aptly slimy and despicable while in Robbie’s chapters, I kept homing in on details that could potentially help him escape. I kept hoping that the teacher admiring his skills in art would go in-depth, I kept hoping he’d kill Daddy Love in his sleep, and I kept hoping his parents would somehow discover a lead and find him.

I wouldn’t say I “enjoyed” this book as it is pretty disgusting (in a good horror way) but I’d say that it’s well-written. The author’s prose is easy to read and rolls off the eyes while having an air of poignancy to them. However, if I were to change anything, I would’ve wanted to see more of the story from the perspective of the parents, Whit and Dinah. We get their side of the story from the start and end of the book, which could be a creative choice by the author to isolate the reader along with Robbie. However, I felt like they were key elements of the story that needed to play a more active role. We get to catch up with where they are at the end of the book but I would have liked to see a little bit more of their lives in-between.

Overall, Daddy Love is a disturbing read of true-to-life horror that balances creepiness and drama without succumbing to exploitative tactics which would have cheapened the book.

And that’s it for this round of Recent Reads! Cardinal Rules was a fun and campy slasher with some food for thought, Camp Slaughter was a 5-star stay in a grueling slasher setting, and Daddy Love was a disturbing yet brilliantly written piece of horror fiction.

You can find these books on Amazon and the like, which is where I got Cardinal Rules and Camp Slaughter. I was able to snag Daddy Love for a massive steal from online seller Lazada here in the Philippines.

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