Black Five, by J. Lynn Bailey

Black Five, by J. Lynn Bailey
In exchange for a fair and honest review,
I received an advanced release copy of this book through NetGalley

in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Penelope Jackson has had a hard life. Her earliest memories were living with her crack-addicted adopted mother – who died when she was 8. Scarred by horrible memories of that time, Penelope moved to live with her aunt JoAnne. Life for the next almost-10-years went pretty calmly. She wasn’t popular in school, but she had her couple of good friends, and her loving aunt. But then everything changed. She found out that she’d been lied to her whole life. That she was a special immortal being called a “black five.” She was the only one who could save the world from an evil tyrant. 

I think this book would appeal to its target audience – perhaps 12-15 year old girls. Penelope is a unique, charming, and engaging character. The two romantic interests are handsome, powerful, masculine, mysterious, and totally enamored by her. This is also a nice story because the main character is a girl; but a loving, strong-willed, powerful one. Flawed, as well, which makes her likable. Most stories like this feature a boy as the magical-one-who-will-save-the-world (e.g. Harry Potter). Or if it’s a girl, she’s either a weak, needy one (yeah, I’m thinking Bella Swann); or a hard, unempathetic one (e.g. Tris or Katniss). I’m thinking of this book as sort of a mix between Harry Potter and Twilight. It’s young, it’s clean, it’s magical, and it’s got that love triangle. So, yes, if you’ve got a 12-15 year old girl who loves this type of book, it’s definitely appropriate and enjoyable.  

Now I get to the part that’s harder to say, but this is a “fair and honest review” after all. This book was not for me. I doubt it’s really for many adults at all. Love triangles? Ick. Not only do they give me the willies because I feel like the girl likes one guy and leads on the other, but they always seem to be leading on the guy that I think is better (so it always comes with disappointment in the end). Oh, and the Edward Cullen creepiness factor? It’s in this one too. Except – oh change-up! – it’s in the guy that I actually like. 🙂 Another problem I had with this book is the lengthy journal section. The hand-writing was atrocious. The writer even admitted that his writing was atrocious. It was an incredible struggle for me to read. 

Ok. So here’s what I think. This book wasn’t for me, but it’s a great book for 12-year-old girls. Therefore, I think it’s fair-and-honest to give the book 4 stars with the disclaimer: this is a book for young girls. 🙂

4 stars for appropriateness, likable characters, and magical story

Let Me In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Let Me In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist, narrated by Steven Pacey

Oskar, a 12-year-old boy, is bullied by his schoolmates. He spends his time fantasizing about revenge and stabbing trees with a knife. He obsesses about violent crimes, keeping a notebook of newspaper clippings. One day, a strange girl and her father move in next door. She seems quite unaware of social norms and completely immune to getting cold. Her father and she argue loudly and frequently, which Oskar can hear through his wall. Despite the fact that she tells him they can’t be friends, Eli and Oskar soon form a bond. She encourages him to stand up to his bullies, and he starts growing in self-confidence. But strange murders are suddenly occurring in his neighborhood, and Oskar begins to suspect that Eli is more than he thought she was. 

I have been interested in reading this book after reading a fascinating short story of his a few years ago. This book did not disappoint. It was eerie and consuming. It was also very gruesome, and it has some graphic child-sexual-abuse scenes, so beware. Luckily, I had read reviews of this book beforehand and already knew about the child abuse, so I was not quite as repulsed by it. However, this book lost an entire star because of the child-sexual-abuse, which didn’t appear at all in the movies and wasn’t absolutely necessary. The child abuse did help develop the character of Eli’s father as a disgusting and pathetic failure, but I think both attributes could have been manged in other ways. Or, at least, without the graphic scenes.

In general, I am pleased with Lindqvist’s style – it is mysterious and flows well. The characters were well-drawn and believable (in a there-be-vampires sort of way). There dark, dreary mood was set early in the book and retained steadily throughout. There was nothing particularly original about Lindqvist’s vampire, though Eli had some original personality traits and circumstances. Also, I’ve seen this book described as a romance, and I don’t agree with that. Yes, Oskar asked Eli to “go steady,” but that was about it. I mean, he was 12, and those feelings were very naive and not pronounced. This was a book about friendship, not romance.

Overall, I was pleased with the book and would read another by Lindqvist, though I’ll probably wait before I can get through another that has sexual abuse in it. The audiobook was well-read – the voices were distinguishable and the pacing was quite reasonable.
3.5 stars for flow, eeriness, mystery – star lost for child sexual abuse



My Life as a White Trash Zombie, by Diana Rowland

My Life as a White Trash Zombie, by Diana Rowland, narrated by Allison McLemore

This book was a huge surprise to me. I was told it was fantastic – funny, fun, good plot – but I didn’t really believe. I mean, there are so many zombie books out there, right? But it really was hilarious and fun. I’m glad I gave it a chance.

Angel Crawford is a down-on-her-luck, pill-popping, high school drop-out who can’t hold down a job and is being dragged down by her alcoholic father and deadbeat boyfriend. One day, she wakes up in a hospital – told that she overdosed and was found naked on the side of the road. Humiliated, she is about to return home when she gets a mysterious note telling her to drink a mysterious power-shake each day, and that she now has a job picking up and helping autopsy dead bodies. She’s told she must keep this job for at least a month, or she’s going to prison for parole violation. Angel is terrified of prison, so she begrudgingly starts her new job. 

Strangely, she realizes that she desperately wants to eat the brains of the bodies she’s been autopsying – and she thinks it must be some weird side-effect of the OD…maybe she’s just going crazy. But then hints begin to turn up that she’s been zombified. Proving to be more intelligent than she thought, Angel begins to investigate who zombified her, sent her the mysterious notes, and who, in God’s sake, is the serial murderer who’s beheading all his victims?

Like I said, it was really funny. I loved Angel’s character, and the mystery kept me listening even when I should have been doing other things. Angel really developed during this book – changing from an self-hating loser to an almost self-confident, poised, intelligent woman. (There’s still some room left for “refinement” in the next books, of course.) Much to my surprise and gratification, this was a very character-driven book. I will definitely pick up more from this series. 

This book gets 4.5 stars for humor, characterization, and mystery.

Bloodchild and Other Stories, by Octavia E. Butler

Bloodchild and Other Stories, by Octavia E. Butler

This is a book of horror / dark fantasy stories by the amazing author Ocativa E. Butler. Believe it or not, this is the first book by Butler that I have ever read, and I was amazed at her brilliance. 

Her stories were incredibly creative. They covered important issues like race, slavery, sexuality, and identity, all in the guise of alien occupation or dystopic disease and other dark fantasy themes. Her prose was smooth and eloquent.

The most interesting of the stories was her novella Bloodchild, which is about a child that is about to be “sexually” adopted by some alien worm-thing. The story encompassed the feelings of the boy, his mother, and the alien – providing some very startling insight. 


After each story, Butler included a short essay of what she intended the story to mean or background in her life when the story was written. These brought further understanding to the story, though I was a little skeptical when she insisted that she hadn’t intended Bloodchild to be about slavery. But, I guess, sometimes meanings creep in there unintended. And there’s also something to say for the readers’ interpretation regardless of intended meaning. To me, slavery was one of the many underlying themes of the story. 

At the end of the book, Butler included a couple of essays about what it was like being an African American science fiction author, and encouraged young people to follow their dreams and become authors. Finally, there were a couple of never-before-published stories. 

This little book is well worth your time if you are interested in deeper cultural issues of race, slavery, and sexuality – possibly even if you are not specifically interested in science fiction and fantasy.

For pure brilliance



This post is for R. I. P. X @TheEstellaSociety and the 2015 Halloween Reading Challenge @ReadingEverySeason. It is also for #Diversiverse, @BookLust, which is all about reading books by people of a variety of ethnic/racial backgrounds, so I will provide tell you a little about the author, Octavia E. Butler.

Octavia E. Butler was born in 1947 into an impoverished African American community to a 14-year-old girl. Despite struggling with dyslexia, she had a passion for reading and writing ever since she was very young. As a teenager, she started attempting to publish her stories, despite the extreme difficulty for African Americans publishing science fiction / fantasy. At the time she was one of only a couple African American sci-fi writers. Despite being taken advantage of by money-hungry agents, she finally published Patternmaster in 1976. This book was praised for its powerful prose, and she ended up writing four prequels. She finally became mainstream upon publication of Kindred in 1979. Butler died outside of her home in 2006.

Girl of Nightmares, by Kendare Blake

Girl of Nightmares, by Kendare Blake

After listening to the audio version of Anna Dressed in Blood, by Kendare Blake (and disliking the narrator), I decided to pick up an old-fashioned copy its sequel Girl of Nightmares

Cass Lowood has now become used to life in Thunder Bay. He’s finished a school year in the same school for the first time in years. He has friends: the beautiful and popular Carmel Jones and nerdy voodoo teenage witch Thomas Sabin. The three have tried to move on from the devastating events in Anna Dressed in Blood. They’ve been going to school by day and killing ghosts by night. But when Anna starts haunting Cass, he becomes obsessed with saving her from whatever hell she is suffering. His quest to save her drives a wedge between him and his friends, and leads him across the ocean to follow ominous clues sent by anonymous people.


I enjoyed Girl of Nightmares even more than Anna Dressed in Blood. I began the book with an attachment to all the characters, and was genuinely concerned about Anna’s fate. Cass, Carmel, and Thomas begin to develop more rounded personalities in this book – showing sides of themselves that weren’t obvious in the first book. Girl of Nightmares had a good mixture of action and intrigue, which kept me turning the pages. I’m hoping there will be another book coming up soon. 

4 stars for fluffy YA fun

The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, narrated by Inglis
Caution: There will be spoilers!

A couple of months ago I had the immense pleasure of listening to the Rob Inglis narrations of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. If you ever have the slightest wish to listen to these books, just do it. Inglis’ voices are fantastic; he even sings the songs! It was a true delight. 

A humble hobbit named Bilbo Baggins is unwillingly thrown into a “nasty adventure” when the wizard Gandalf thrusts himself into Bilbo’s home, a troop of dwarves in his wake. Gandalf has misinformed the dwarves that Bilbo is a burglar – the dwarves want Bilbo to burgle a gigantic horde of treasure from the dragon Smaug, who had stolen the treasure (with their mountain kingdom) from the dwarves’ ancestors decades before. This is a strange coming-of-age story, since the character is 50 years old already (which is youngish for a hobbit, but still firmly in the adult range). But as the story progresses, Bilbo recognizes that he is a brave hobbit, an adventuresome hobbit, and a very sneaky burglar. 



The Hobbit was Tolkien’s first major work about Middle Earth, and although it is an excellent book on its own, it is unfortunately overshadowed by his later work The Lord of the Rings. Although LOTR is a sequel to The Hobbit, these two books are very different styles. The Hobbit was intended for children, and therefore has a light-hearted, almost silly air to it. The songs tend to be funny and childish rather than somber and chilling, as in LOTR. An example is when the dwarves are teasing Bilbo with the song: 

Chip the glasses and crack the plates!
Blunt the knives and bend the forks!
That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates—
Smash the bottles and burn the corks!

Cut the cloth and tread on the fat! 
Pour the milk on the pantry floor!
Leave the bones on the bedroom mat!
Splash the wine on every door!

Dump the crocks in a boiling bowl;
Pound them up with a thumping pole;
And when you’ve finished if any are whole,
Send them down the hall to roll!

That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates!
So, carefully! carefully with the plates!


Another factor of the young audience is that the characters in the book are much more silly than they are in the live-action movies. (I will discuss the movies in a later post.) A striking example is of Thorin’s character, who in the book is silly and long-winded, but who in the movie is dark and romantic (not to mention quite handsome). 

The spider scene in the movie is dark and scary. Bilbo is heroic and rescues his friends through cleverness and brave swordsmanship. In the book, he swings through the trees singing a silly song that diverts the spiders’ attention. 

Old fat spider spinning in a tree!
Old fat spider can’t see me!
Attercop! Attercop!
Won’t you stop,
Stop your spinning and look at me!
Old Tomnoddy, all big body,
Old Tomnoddy can’t spy me!
Attercop! Attercop!
Down you drop!

You’ll never catch me up your tree!

After dragging the spiders off on a wild goose chase, Bilbo is able to return to his friends and cut them down from the webs. 


The themes in The Hobbit also tend to be a bit black and white – probably for the sake of the young audience. There is a clear good and evil. The good characters always end up choosing mercy and righteousness over power and wealth. (Though, there is a bit of wealth to go around!) As in any good book, there are momentary shades of grey. Thorin, who is otherwise quite honorable, is temporarily blinded by greed – though he eventually redeems himself. 



An interesting fact that I found out while researching this review is that J. R. R. Tolkien changed The Hobbit after writing LOTR in order to better fit with the dark purpose of the One Ring. Originally, Gollum willingly bet the ring in the riddle contest. Gollum was dismayed when he found out that he could not keep his promise of the ring, and he instead bargained to lead Bilbo out of the cave. They parted on good terms. 

In LOTR, the ring changed from a helpful charm to a powerful device that would suck the soul out of the wearer. Because of this change in the ring’s nature, The Hobbit‘s Gollum had to turn murderous when he discovered the ring was missing. 

Overall, this story was quite enjoyable, and I’m glad that I decided to “re-read” it as an adult. I got a lot more out of it this time around than I did when a child. 

4.5 snowflakes for originality, adventure, humor, morals, and fun

Reason for reading: Interest, TBR Pile, Classics Club List
Format: Audiobook

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black



2015 Media #6 / Book #3: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black 

Reason for reading: This was the January pick for my bookclub.

Summary: In this near-future book, vampires have emerged into the public eye due to an outbreak started by a sloppy newly-made vampire who left his victims living instead of completely draining them. Vampires, and the Cold (people infected with the vampirism disease, but who haven’t yet tasted the blood of humans and so haven’t turned) are forced to live in ghettos called Coldtowns. In this setting, the story starts out with Tana waking up to a vampire-related disaster, which begins both a physical journey away from the disaster and a spiritual journey of self-discovery.

What I thought: This book was fast-paced and difficult to put down. It asked some interesting philosophical questions. Do we all have monsters within us? Do we crave immortality and beauty at the price of humanity? If not, why are so many people attracted to paranormal romances? Is it because we want the ultimate bad-boy? Or, in the opposite line of questioning, why do so many people seek good in what seems evil?T