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



Carmilla, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Carmilla, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu, narrated by Megan Follows

Spoilers. Sorry. 😦 It’s hard to discuss a book well without spoilers.

Despite the very modern look of this cover, this novella is one of the first vampire books, predating Bram Stoker’s Dracula by 26 years. It was a serial story published in the magazine The Dark Blue from 1871 to 1872. Carmilla is narrated by a sweet, lonely girl named Laura, who is stuck with her father in a castle far from any company. She is eagerly expecting the arrival of a new friend, ward of her father’s friend General Spielsdor. Just before their expected arrival, a letter informs Laura and her father that the girl has died suddenly, and the General is on a quest to discover the murderer. 

Almost immediately upon reading this letter, there is a carriage accident involving a lady and her young, amazingly beautiful, daughter. The mother says that she must move on immediately, but the child is sick so she’ll have to leave her in the next town. Laura’s father insists that they keep the child as a ward – she will make a fine friend for Laura. 

Sure enough, Laura and Carmilla become tight friends – in fact, creepily tight. Carmilla is almost homosexual in her adoration of Laura. It would be easy to discount such female-love because in the era in which this book was written lesbianism wasn’t really considered an open possibility. I could easily shrug it off as intimacy which was acceptable at the time the book was written. But even Laura is a little creeped out by Carmilla’s love for her. 

Soon, lower-class girls in the neighborhood start dying of a strange wasting disease. Meanwhile, Carmilla mysteriously locks herself in her room at night, and doesn’t descend until afternoon. Laura is haunted by terrifying dreams of monsters at night, and begins to waste away herself. 

Just in the nick of time, General Spielsdor arrives, telling a strange story of a young, strikingly beautiful, girl who was left in Spielsdor’s care after the mysterious mother needed to leave town suddenly. Spielsdor was convinced that the child was a vampire and had murdered his sweet ward, and then had left town after he’d tried to impale her with his sword. The similarities in the stories were discovered, and Carmilla was henceforth dispatched.

I think the parallels between this story and Bram Stoker’s Dracula are quite striking. They both have a vampire hunter tracing the movements of the abomination. Both vampires sneak in at night and attack the victim several times before death occurs. Carmilla turned into a large cat instead of a dog, as in Dracula, but both vampires slept in coffins. On the other hand, it’s been a while since I’ve read Dracula, but I’m pretty certain he was unable to withstand sunlight, whereas Carmilla moved freely throughout the day. The parallels are likely due to use of the same primary sources of Slavic vampire folklore.

Some consider this book to be the prototype for lesbian vampires; however, as I said above, lesbianism was considered impossible at the time – Queen Victoria declared it so in 1885 when lesbianism was about to be criminalized. So clearly lesbianism could not have been implied. (Though, I suppose, this story was written before lesbianism was royally decreed impossible.)

I enjoyed this book a lot. The narration moved along quite nicely, and the book was short and to-the-point. I would recommend it to anyone who find vampire folklore to be interesting.

References

Le Fanu, J Sheridan. (2010) Carmilla: A Vampyre Tale [BBC Audio Version. Follows, Megan (na).] Retrieved from audible.com. 


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

Deadly Offer, by Caroline B. Cooney

Deadly Offer, by Caroline B. Cooney

Reason for Reading: This book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. When I was a teenager, I read the second book in this trilogy, and I was curious what I would think of the first.

Review
Althea craves popularity. She wants to be a cheerleader – swooned over by all the jocks and the envy of all the girls. When, against custom, she opens the shuttered tower room in her house, she releases a vampire who makes a deal with her: If she brings him victims, he will give her popularity. Althea finds herself spiraling out of control as the vampire asks for more and more – and she feels she has to give it to him or suffer public humiliation. 

Looked at from a superficial point of view, there’s really not much to this book. It’s barely 200 pages long, and has little plot or character development. It’s pretty standard for those Point Horror books that were being pumped out in the ’90s. Teen readers should be wary – this is a quick, fluffy read with a (how dare Ms. Cooney?!) BAD vampire. Yes. That’s right. His skin looks and smells like soggy mushrooms. He feeds on the weakness of teenagers. And he doesn’t sparkle. He is in no way, shape, or form romantic. It was SUCH a wonderful change. 🙂 As long as bad vampires don’t insult your intelligence, you’ll enjoy this book if you’re 11-14ish. Or you might enjoy it if you’re older and enjoy exploring ideas.

What I liked about this book was that it was more meaningful on a deeper level. There were hints all along that Althea could have made herself popular on her own – that her own attitude ensured her unpopularity. She assumed no one knew she existed, so she hid from everyone. Result – nobody paid her any attention. This is also a story about how far some people are willing to go in order to gain what they want. She sacrificed her morals and trampled on other people in order to achieve her goals – and then she was dissatisfied with the results. It’s a story about being true to yourself and how your goals will be more lasting when you achieve them through hard work instead of back-stabbing. Any book that makes me think earns points with me! 🙂 

Another thing that made me think: where the heck were her parents through all of this?! They weren’t mentioned even once! Did Cooney mean to do that? I read the second book in the trilogy many years ago, and I remember THAT protagonist had parents…

Midnight Riot, by Ben Aaronovitch

Midnight Riot 

Written by Ben Aaronovitch, Narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith

Reason for Reading: Real-life Book Club

Review
Peter Grant is a bumbling, easily distracted constable on the fast-track for a paper-pushing job. His luck unexpectedly turns when a ghost approaches him at a murder scene. Apparently Grant does have a talent – he can see dead people. Suddenly, he is adopted as the sole apprentice of Detective Chief Inspector Nightengale, who heads the supernatural division of the police. Grant is up to his ears in weirdness as he tries to solve the murder while learning the ropes in the unexpectedly supernatural world. I mostly enjoyed Midnight Riot for its interesting world-building and a lot of dry humor. The character of Grant was likable enough – even if he was bumbling – and I suspect I’d grow attached to him after a few books in the series. The plot tended to stray a bit more than I prefer, though. Nothing too bad, mind you, but there were a few moments where I wondered if we were still trying to catch the murderer or just enjoy the scenery. I prefer a little more focus. But these passages were never very long, and the book was, for the most part, quite enjoyable. I’m sure I’ll pick up the next in the series some day.

As for the narration by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith…I think his cadence, tone, and delivery was done perfectly for our character. He was so dead-pan with the dry humor that I sometimes only caught the humor by delayed reaction. Which made it funnier. 🙂 On the other hand, he was a rather loud (and wet) breather. I figured at first that this was put on for the character effect – but then I realized that such breathing would be difficult to fake unless he narrator was really congested. So…the loud breathing wasn’t enough to put me off, but it might be enough to put SOME people off. 

Assassin’s Code, by Jonathan Maberry

2012 Book 150: Assassin’s Code

written by Jonathan Maberry, narrated by Ray Porter

Reason for Reading: 4th book in the Joe Ledger series. Figured the brainless action would be entertaining for a long car ride. Also, it fits in nicely with the Halloween theme. 🙂



My Review

In this fourth installment of Joe Ledger’s story, Ledger kicks the @$$ of evil Iranians, a Romanian? weirdo cult, and a group of religious doomsday vampires…all while trying to figure out where the mysterious group of psychotic women fit in to this mess. This book is brainless military sci-fi/horror action at its best. I only gave the book three stars because I started to get bored of all the bad @$$ military action. And it waxed a little too political for me at times. This is also a book that you shouldn’t think too deeply about–for instance, why the heck did he bring his DOG for a mission in Iran (when clearly the dog wasn’t being used for the mission)? Certainly, the dog HAPPENED to come in handy at times, but it seems poor planning to bring a dog and then leave him pointlessly in the hotel during the mission, so that if things didn’t go as smoothly as planned, Ledger would have to go back and get his dog before getting out of harm’s way. I also felt some of the “intrigue” plot was rather overcooked. Really? Intrigue in the Catholic Church? Gasp! Never seen THAT in a book before! So, like I said, this book is great if you’re interested in some mindless action…just don’t think too much. 🙂

If you liked the rest of the Joe Ledger books, then this is more of the same. If you liked the first and felt “meh” about the rest, then this book is similar to the rest of the sequels. If you haven’t read any of the others, pick up Patient Zero (it’s good!) and then keep in mind that the rest of the books are less intelligent, but just as much pulpy action.