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.


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

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.

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

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.

Blood and Other Cravings, ed. Ellen Datlow

2012 Book 147: Blood and Other Cravings, ed. Ellen Datlow

Reason for Reading: This seemed like a good book to read in October. I chose it because it’s currently being considered for the World Fantasy Award.

My Review  
This is an anthology of vampire stories…but not just ANY vampires.Vampires are inundating the market these days, and they’re beginning to get a tad predictable and boring. This new collection is meant to delight the reader by displaying the variety of thirsts that plague vampires (and humans). There are your classic blood-sucking varieties, but there are also soul-sucking vampires, and vampires from different folkloric traditions, and vampires that…well, ARE they vampires, or are they humans…or…are humans really vampires at heart?

Although I thought the theme of this anthology was creative, and I generally enjoyed the stories, I wasn’t wowed. I’m not a huge short story reader because I really like plot and character development, and short stories simply don’t have the space for such development–unless they really pack the info in. And in the case of THOSE stories, I tend to feel a little bogged down and need to read very slowly to pick up all the information. For me, these stories were either too insubstantial or too substantial. 😉 Being unaccustomed to reading anthologies, I don’t know if this issue was because I have difficulty with short stories, or if it was because the anthology was less than fantastic. Either way, I thought the anthology was interesting, but I’m glad to be moving on to other books. 

I was originally going to share a mini-review of each story. But these stories are so short, and the joy (for me) depended entirely on not knowing what sort of “vampire” I was reading about. There’s just not much to say about the individual stories without giving spoilers. 

All You Can Do Is Breathe, by Kaaron Warren: When a mine collapses, a minor is trapped for several days. He keeps himself alive by remembering the good things in life. But he keeps a dark secret from the media-craze that descends upon him when he is rescued. A scary “long man” came to him while he was trapped…a man who didn’t want to rescue him. 

Needles, by Elizabeth Bear: Two vampires descend upon the home of a tattoo artist. Do they want more than just a tattoo? 

Baskerville’s Midgets, by Reggie Oliver. A boardinghouse landlady befriends a set of 7 midgets and pays a dire price.  ***This one was darkly funny. One of my three favorites.

Blood Yesterday, Blood Tomorrow, by Richard Bowes: A woman in need of money seduces her rich ex-lover to come back to the dark-side.  

X for Demetrious, by Steve Duffy: This is a fictional story based on the true-life news story of a man who, in January 1973, was found dead on his mattress–having choked on a bulb of garlic. The room was filled with crucifixes, sprinkled with salt, and “protected” with salt-laced urine and garlic-laced excrement. ***This was one of my three favorite stories in the anthology. It was thoughtful and a bit frightening.

Keeping Corky, by Melanie Tem: A mentally disabled woman who believes that she has the power to “punish” people by sucking away bits of themselves becomes angry when she is not allowed to write a letter to her biological son Corky, who’d been adopted by a couple years ago. But does she really have the power to punish?

Shelf Life, by Lisa Tuttle: While rummaging through her parent’s attic, a woman finds a dollhouse that she’d become obsessed with as a child. She takes it home and gives it to her daughter–with disastrous results. Some people just shouldn’t have dollhouses. 

Caius, by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg: Caius is a radio talk-show host who has an almost magical power to resolve people’s internal conflicts and make them feel satisfied. They flock to him. But what’s really going on?

Sweet Sorrow, by Barbara Roden: When a little girl disappears in a quiet neighborhood, her friend Brian feels that his elderly neighbors are acting suspiciously. They seem to thrive on the grief around them.

First Breath, Nicole J. LeBoeuf: A mysterious narrator goes on a trip to “find herself.” 

Toujours, Kathe Koje: After dedicating the later years of his life to help a young fashion designer become famous, Gianfranco jealously guards the young man from encroaching threats–like love interests.

Miri, by Steve Rasnic Tem: Ricky is a devoted husband and father, but something is lacking. He constantly seems drained and distracted. He spends a lot of time thinking about a woman from the past…

Mrs. Jones, by Carol Emshwiller: Two old-maid sisters entertain themselves through a long, dreary life by intentionally annoying one another. Then one day, a little demon shows up in their lives…and everything suddenly changes. 

Bread and Water, by Michael Cisco: The story of a vampire plague from the perspective of one of the original hospitalized patients. 

Mulberry Boys, by Margo Lanagan: Fifteen-year-old John helps hard-hearted Phillips track down and surgically care for a Mulberry Boy. As talks to Phillips for the first time in his life, he learns more about who the Mulberry Boys are and begins to wonder who’s the REAL monster. ***This was my third favorite story…and it was definitely the most memorable for me. I’ll probably look for more works by this author.

The Third Always Beside You, by John Langan: Weber and Gertrude suspect that there is another woman involved in their parent’s marriage. When curiosity finally overcomes Gertrude and she asks a family friend, she finds out much more than she’d bargained for.  

Dracula, by Bram Stoker

2012 Book 123: Dracula, by Bram Stoker (8/15/2012)

Reason for Reading: Coursera Fantasy and Science Fiction Course. Listened to it on my car ride to MN. 🙂 Didn’t finish it in time for the assignment though!

My Review
This review is for the Audible Edition of Dracula, narrated by Alan Cumming et al. (Wow, I just used et al. in a review. That makes me pretty darned special.) 

In this classic novel, a group of acquaintances must rid themselves of the sinister Count Dracula who has descended upon London with the eager desire to create a flock of bloodsucking fiends. This is my second reading of the novel–the first being when I was a young teenager. This time, I was impressed by Stoker’s ability to set a dark mood and maintain it through the entire book. There was always some creepy fog or a terrified dog or a creepily sleep-walking woman to spook the reader. The full-cast performance was delightful. It really brought the various characters to life. The end of the book dragged for me a little because I was on a long car trip, counting down the last 6 hours in 10 minute intervals. But that’s not really the fault of the book. 🙂

The Last Vampire, by Christopher Pike

2012 Book 89: The Last Vampire, by Christopher Pike (6/20/2012)

Reason for Reading: I used to read Christopher Pike when I was in middle school. Around the 7th grade, I decided he wrote trash and moved on to bigger and better books (literally). A few years back, I saw this book and whimsically bought it. I’ve finally gotten around to it…and come to the conclusion: My 7th grade self was very discerning. And my 30-something self should be ashamed of not trusting 7th grade self. Serves me right for reading a book entitled Thirst No. 1.

My Review 1/5 stars
Thirst No. 1 is a compilation of the first three books in a series written by Pike in the mid-90’s. I only made it through the first book, The Last Vampire, so that’s what I’m basing this review on. The basic plot-line is that a 5000-year-old vampire falls in love with a teenager and fights for her life against another 5000-year-old vampire. At first, I was impressed that Pike incorporated Hindu mythology into his plot (albeit with no dedication to the spirit of Hinduism). And the writing wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. But then I realized how flat the characters were and how many loopholes the story had. I remembered why I didn’t like Christopher Pike–he scandalized me with his sexually active teenagers. I was less scandalized at 32 than I was at 12, but I still feel the casual “of course they’re sexually active” style was inappropriate for teen literature. I simply don’t think writers of teen books should make sex look like such a casual, unimportant act. However, I was prepared to finish Thirst No. 1 until the end of the first book. Total cliffhanger! And unnecessarily so. The only purpose of this cliffhanger was to leave the readers incomplete so that they’d rush into the next novel. One or two more sentences would have left the reader feeling complete. Personally, I feel authors should FINISH THEIR BOOKS!!!! What trash! Blagh!