REVIEW: Jek/Hyde by Amy Ross

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Title: Jek/Hyde
Author: Amy Ross
Format: ARC, 329 pages
Publication: October 3rd 2017 by Harlequin Teen
Source: Author (thank you Amy Ross!)
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Gothic, Mystery, Science Fiction
Other classifications: Retelling, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound | Fully Booked

Synopsis

Lulu and Jek are science nerds, and have been best friends since they were young . . . or at least they used to be. Lately Jek has been pulling away from Lulu, just as she’s coming to terms with how she really feels about him. Just as she’s ready to see if there could be something more between them.

But Lulu’s thoughts are derailed by a mysterious new guy who’s showing up at local parties. Hyde is the definition of a bad boy, and everybody knows it . . . but no one can seem to resist his charms. Girls can’t stay away from him, and guys all want to be him. And even though Lulu’s heart belongs to Jek, she can’t deny Hyde’s attraction either.

She also knows that there’s something not quite right about Hyde. That the rumors of his backwood parties make them sound a little more dangerous than what any of her friends are accustomed to. And she doesn’t like the fact that Hyde seems to be cozying up to Jek, and that they seem to be intertwined in ways that have Lulu worrying for Jek’s safety.

If Hyde has a dark secret, Lulu is determined to find out what it is, and to help Jek . . . before it’s too late for both of them.

Review

I received a review copy from the author which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

Jek/Hyde is more a rehashing and less a retelling.

The book—Ross’ debut in young adult literature—centers on Lupita “Lulu” Gutierrez and Jayesh Emerson “Jek” Kapoor, two science nerds who have been best friends for as long as long as they can remember. But just as Lulu is coming to terms with her more-than-platonic feelings for her best friend, Jek starts distancing himself and spending all his time holed up in his room/lab with his experiments. It doesn’t help that there’s a mysterious—and unmistakably alluring—new guy in town, who is the very definition of a bad boy, and who may or may not have connections with Jek. Confession time: I have not read the Stevenson classic. Nor have I seen any of the bajillion movie adaptations. But I feel like The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been so embedded into our collective cultural consciousness that it’s almost as if I have read the book without actually having read it. And Jek/Hyde totally validates my judgment; whatever hope I had of mystery, I went to the wrong party.

“”But sweetheart. . .” He leans in close and takes a deep, slow breath, his eyes slipping half-closed. “No one is good all the time.””

To be fair, the novel kept me relatively entertained ’til the very last page. It took a couple of chapters for the story to find its footing, but find it it did and it maintained a good pacing all through out the book. I also like how the tone and setting effectively conjure a sense of helplessness and perpetual confinement. The book is set in a small town in the Midwestern, and that was executed well. But then we get to the actual narrative and it gets less than stellar. There is little character development, cases of present-but-not-present adults, and underdeveloped subplots, all culminating in a heavily expository conclusion and one that is out of touch with the rest of the main character’s journey.

“I know how it is. You think if you worry enough, if you take care of him and rescue him, that will make him yours. But you’ll never keep a boy like that.”

There’s also a huge disconnect between what the reader is being told versus what he is being shown. Lulu has a tendency to pine for Jek, which is fine, that’s her thing. But not once was I convinced of the friendship—or any sort of connection—between her and Jek she often talks about. He was a jerk to her and when the story reaches the part where certain things happen, it felt forced. And I’m not buying her science nerdiness either. Meanwhile, Jek’s arc had an interesting start. He is biracial; his mother is Indian, his father is black. And there’s a scene where he goes about being the only black person in town, even in his own house. About having “this whole part of [himself] that’s completely cut off from anyone like [him],” and I think that’s a fascinating conversation the author could’ve explored. Just as much as the minor plot line of LondonChem, an agrichemical/pharmaceutical company who may be causing its workers’ unidentified illness. Instead, they became background noises.

“I don’t know whether I’m angrier at the assumption that these two can read everyone’s race and ethnicity perfectly just from looking, or at their surprise that a black person could kick their ass at a science competition, but I can’t point out either one, since they didn’t actually say any of that.”

I’ve read in a conversation the author had with Cat Hellisen that the point is to keep the story as close to the original as possible, and I get that. Ross accomplished what she set out to do. But even so, I can’t help feeling cheated on because of how the book is marketed (“an inventive modern retelling”) which couldn’t have been more misleading. Sure, the story is set in modern-day suburban America and it has a racially diverse cast—albeit, the latter struck me as contrived in places. But that’s as modern as it gets. The other half of the equation, forgotten.

“This crazy town. Some guy nearly gets killed right in front of us, and all anyone can think about is where they can go to get fucked-up next.”

Jek/Hyde had potentials. It really did. But with plot holes and character-development inconsistencies that feel quite unresolved even towards the end, it leaves a lot to be desired.

3.0 out of 5

Author

Amy Ross 01

Amy Ross has an MFA from the University of Idaho and a bachelor’s from Brown University. She has lived in upstate New York, Providence, Paris, Chicago, Copenhagen, Kyoto, Idaho and Taiwan, and is currently in Indiana. She likes bad horror flicks, dense critical-theory texts, fomenting revolution, wild bears, cooking and the sublime. She hates everything else.

Twitter | TumblrWebsite

What is your favorite adaptation or retelling of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

You can also stalk follow me elsewhere! On Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Bloglovin.

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REVIEW: Warcross by Marie Lu (+ Giveaway)

Warcross Blog Tour Banner

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Title: Warcross
Author: Marie Lu
Format: Paperback, 353 pages
Publication: September 12th 2017 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Source: Publisher via blog tour (thank you Penguin Random House and Raf @ The Royal Polar Bear Reads!)
Genre: Fiction—Cyber Thriller, Science Fiction
Other classifications: Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound | Fully Booked

Synopsis

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life.

The obsession started ten years ago and its fan base now spans the globe, some eager to escape from reality and others hoping to make a profit. Struggling to make ends meet, teenage hacker Emika Chen works as a bounty hunter, tracking down players who bet on the game illegally. But the bounty hunting world is a competitive one, and survival has not been easy. Needing to make some quick cash, Emika takes a risk and hacks into the opening game of the international Warcross Championships—only to accidentally glitch herself into the action and become an overnight sensation.

Convinced she’s going to be arrested, Emika is shocked when instead she gets a call from the game’s creator, the elusive young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, with an irresistible offer. He needs a spy on the inside of this year’s tournament in order to uncover a security problem . . . and he wants Emika for the job. With no time to lose, Emika’s whisked off to Tokyo and thrust into a world of fame and fortune that she’s only dreamed of. But soon her investigation uncovers a sinister plot, with major consequences for the entire Warcross empire.

Review

I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

Welcome to one of the stops on the third day of the Warcross PH Blog Tour!

Deeply immersive and compellingly readable, Marie Lu delivers in her latest book Warcross. Think The Hunger Games meets online RPGs.

The novel, which is first in a planned duology, follows teenage hacker and bounty hunter Emika Chen who is three days away from becoming homeless. With waitressing gigs in decline and a hunt gone awry, she goes for some quick cash and hacks into the opening game of the International Warcross Championships. Except she accidentally glitches herself into the actual game in the process. Now, convinced of an imminent arrest, Emika is nonplussed when she instead receives a call from the game’s creator, young billionaire Hideo Tanaka, who has a job to offer. Then she finds herself in Tokyo, drafted in one of the official teams, and working for her idol. This is my introduction to Marie Lu, and while it didn’t convert me, it has made clear why there’s a massive number of champions (pun definitely intended) of her books: the author does a fantastic job in crafting vivid, nuanced settings and stories that have mass commercial appeal.

Every locked door has a key.
Every problem has a solution.”

Virtual realities aren’t anything new; I can easily cite Ernest Cline’s massive 2011 hit Ready Player One, for instance. But there’s something very seductive about the idea of Warcross and the NeuroLink glasses. Imagine entering the Hunger Games without risking, well, your life or playing Ragnarok where you are your character, avatar and all. Take everyday occurrences, like going to a coffee shop or playing Mario Kart, but with enhanced experience and points to be gained. It actually doesn’t take a bout of imagination, given how much we rely on the internet for almost everything nowadays. Moreover, the novel is incredibly cinematic. I haven’t been to Tokyo, or anywhere else in Japan for that matter, but I grew up consuming enough anime to acquire a certain set of mental images of the city. And Lu’s Tokyo not only captures that, it also improves it. I must say I had issues with the pacing, though, mainly because I feel like it lost its momentum towards the second act. But damn those final chapters. They were pretty intense and I couldn’t read fast enough. And when it’s time for the major plot twist—the major plot twistI was inwardly facepalming myself for believing I had it all figured out.

“It’s too easy to lose yourself in an illusion.”

I also laud the author for inclusivity. Emika Chen, the plucky, badass heroine, is Chinese American. The captain of one of the Warcross teams is in a wheelchair. Two dudes have a history of hooking up and it was mentioned so casually—like it’s the most natural thing, and it is—and half the cast is non-Caucasian. Hideo Tanaka has his charm, but it often reads as paradigmatic. And I wish we got to see more of Emika interacting with her teammates. Perhaps we’ll see that in the sequel, but I think it’s a missed opportunity to witness an independent female MC have better fleshed out relationships outside of her romantic arc. Which conveniently brings up my next point: the biggest turn off for me, the romance. I was ready to forgive its insta-love nature, YA throws you that every now and then. But I find zero chemistry between Emika and the love interest. None. Where people were freaking out over their ship sailing, I was left with a resounding why? The result is me lowkey cringing over border line cheesy dialogues (and I love cheesy!).

“If I could solve these problems, then I could control something.”

If you are looking for a title that will give you the satisfaction of a good summer blockbuster, look no further.

3.5 out of 5

Author

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Marie Lu is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling series The Young Elites, as well as the blockbuster bestselling Legend series. She graduated from the University of Southern California and jumped into the video game industry as an artist. Now a full-time writer, she spends her spare time reading, drawing, playing games, and getting stuck in traffic. She lives in Los Angeles, California, with one husband, one Chihuahua mix, and two Pembroke Welsh corgis.

Facebook | Twitter | TumblrWebsite

You can read Warcross, too! Enter HERE for a chance to win one (1) finished paperback. Entries are limited to the Philippines and will be accepted until 11:59pm (EST), September 21st.

Check out the rest of the tour stops!

September 12
Read by Nicka
The Hogsmeader Reader
That Bookshelf Bitch
Amidst the Pages

September 13
The Ultimate Fangirl
Kat Reads PH
Highlit Books
Wanderer in Neverland

September 14
Descendant of Poseidon Reads
The Owl Hoots Loudly
Bookable Reads

September 15
Home of a Book Lover
The Nocturnal Fey
Books and Photographs
The BookDragon

Now tell me: what is your favorite Marie Lu title? 

You can also stalk follow me elsewhere! On Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Bloglovin.

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REVIEW: Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

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Title: Eliza and Her Monsters
Author: Francesca Zappia
Format: ARC, 389 pages
Publication: May 30th 2017 by Greenwillow Books
Source: Won from a giveaway contest (thank you Precious @ Fragments of Life!)
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Realistic
Other classifications: Depression and Mental Illness, Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound | Fully Booked

Synopsis

In the real world, Eliza Mirk is shy, weird, and friendless. Online, Eliza is LadyConstellation, anonymous creator of the webcomic Monstrous Sea. With millions of followers and fans, Eliza’s persona is popular, and she can’t imagine enjoying the real world as much as she loves her digital community. Then a key member of the fandom, Wallace Warland, transfers to her school and Eliza begins to wonder if a life offline might be worthwhile. But when Eliza’s identity is accidentally revealed, everything she’s built—her story, her relationship with Wallace, and even her sanity—begins to fall apart.

Review
Eliza and Her Monsters is at once a love letter to fandom and a touching portrayal of depression and anxiety.

The book is about the shy, awkward teenage Eliza Mirk who would rather spend her time in front of the computer screen or work on her art. She is the person behind LadyConstellation, anonymous creator of the widely popular webcomic Monstrous Sea, a secret only her immediate family and two online friends are privy to. If things go according to plan, she will finish both her comic and high school under the radar. But things rarely go according to plan. She befriends the new guy, Wallace Warland, who turns out to be not only a hardcore Monstrous Sea fan but also a fan fiction writer and Eliza begins to wonder if perhaps life outside her room and the digital community is not so bad. Then, by some earnest mistake, she is outed, painfully and publicly. What’s striking about Eliza and Her Monsters is not how it looks at mental health with unflinching resolve, although that comes really close. It is how Zappia writes with lightness and empathy without ever treating lightly her dark subject.

“There is a small monster in my brain that controls my doubt.
The doubt itself is a stupid thing, without sense or feeling, blind and straining at the end of a long chain. The monster, though, is smart. It’s always watching, and when I am completely sure of myself, it unchains the doubt and lets it run wild. Even when I know it’s coming, I can’t stop it.”

I want to commend the author for capturing the joys and complexities of family, all the while celebrating online friendships as well. Eliza’s family is incredibly well written. Peter and Anna Mirk are two very involved parents who care about their children but don’t always understand things. As a result, they are constantly on Eliza, nagging her to get her nose off her phone or otherwise hounding her to do outdoorsy stuff or hang out with “actual” people. They have zero grasp on the notion of internet-only friends and this is the ultimate source of antagonism between them and their daughter. I am a millennial okay, and there was a time in my college years when I would spend all my time in Tumblr, and I think Zappia gets that. Gets it a lot. Next are Sully and Church, Eliza’s younger siblings. They are equal parts annoying (for our MC at least) and endearing and I wish we got to spend more time with them, albeit I can see how that’s unnecessary. Then we have the online friends Max and Emmy. They only appear through group chats—and not too frequently either—but I kid you not, those are some of my favorite scenes. Because how many friends do I have, that I’ve met through the internet, that I talk to on a daily basis? The dynamics between the three just feels organic and the easy banters are exceedingly enjoyable. Even the friendships Eliza form with Wallace’s friends, founded on a shared love for Monstrous Sea, do not for once ring hollow. Now, have you met Wallace Warland? Because I swear you want to meet him. If my Goodreads updates are any indication, I was all heart-eyes emojis as soon as he steps into the campus.

“I do have friends. Maybe they live hundreds of miles away from me, and maybe I can only talk to them through a screen, but they’re still my friends.”

I absolutely adore the romance between Eliza and Wallace. Gosh, they were super awkward! #awkwardisforever Especially with Wallace not speaking out loud. So they converse with handwritten notes instead, and a I think that’s old-school romantic and b something I relate with. There were and are times when I would leave someone a note or text rather than talk to him in person. You know, how it sometimes seems like what you want to say doesn’t translate well to what you actually say. This isn’t the basis for Eliza and Wallace’s notes conversations of course, but I thought the author did a nuanced exploration of that nevertheless. The romance also isn’t some instalove business, which I appreciate. The two became friends then lovers. But more importantly, it didn’t free Eliza from her monsters. Romance isn’t the thing that saved her and tied everything neatly in a bow.

“I have to try. I have to try, because I’m doing it again—I’m shutting everything out because I’m frustrated and tired and because the real world is difficult and I’d rather live in one of my own making. But I can’t. I am here, and I have to try.”

One of the many themes of the novel is mental health. Eliza, aside from being introverted, is an intensely anxious person and she tends to fold into herself when situations get uncomfortable. Her favorite book series, Children of Hypnos, deals heavily on depression and her webcomic Monstrous Sea is a metaphor for it. Wallace is equally in need of help, if for different reasons. And there are thoughts and (arguably) one act of suicide. But Zappia handles the material with sensitivity, never romanticizing nor trivializing any of it, and the effect is often raw and moving. As intriguing as the panels and excerpts interspersed through out the story are, which make for an interesting format. As spot on as the depiction of craft and the creative life is. Really, the one problem I had with this book is a scene I don’t buy and which I will not spoil you with. It happens towards the latter part and, while it serves the plot, I believe it’s a little bit out of touch with the character.

“Broken people don’t hide from their monsters. Broken people let themselves be eaten.”

Eliza and Her Monsters is my first Francesca Zappia title but it will definitely not be the last. If you’ve enjoyed Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell or My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga, you might want to check this one out. Or vice versa.

4.0 out of 5

Author

Francesca Zappia 01

Francesca Zappia lives in central Indiana and is the author of Made You Up.

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Have you read this one yet? Have I convinced you to? What are some of your favorite books that feature a character(s) with mental health illness? What are you currently reading? Come now, sound off in the comments below!

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REVIEW: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

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Title: A Wrinkle in Time
Author: Madeleine L’Engle
Format: Paperback, 247 pages
Publication: May 1st 2007 by Square Fish (first published January 1st 1962 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Source: Borrowed from the library (Kumon Angeles City)
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Other classifications: Young Adult

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound | Fully Booked

Synopsis

It was a dark and stormy night.

Out of this wild night, a strange visitor comes to the Murry house and beckons Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe on a most dangerous and extraordinary adventure—one that will threaten their lives and our universe.

Review

NOTE: The fifth paragraph is slightly spoilery. Thread with caution.

Human fallibility and the capacity for deep connection are at the center of A Wrinkle in Time, a Newbery Medal-winning, universe-hopping sci-fi fantasy novel.

The first title in a quintet, it chronicles Meg Murry’s quest to save her father. From who or what she has no idea. But she has her brother Charles Wallace, a boy named Calvin O’Keefe, and three mysterious ladies—Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which—to accompany her. I’ve read somewhere that there are two types of children: those who read Madeleine L’Engle and those who don’t. I’d like to believe I would’ve been the former had I stumbled upon A Wrinkle in Time in my younger years. Or, that is, had I had the love of reading I now have. I could just picture myself freaking out over a girl I can identify with who goes to this thrilling and dangerous and awe-inspiring journey through the cosmos. Who embraced her flaws to battle the bad guys. That being said, I was still able to appreciate and take pleasure in the story, even if the final act felt rushed.

“I’ve never even seen your house, and I have the funniest feeling that for the first time in my life I’m going home!”

For whatever reason, I somehow thought this beloved L’Engle classic is going to be a family drama. This is prior to seeing the trailer for the DuVernay/Disney adaptation of course. And in a lot of ways it is a family drama. But it also is so much more than that; it has beautiful, past-the-Greek-centaur creatures for one. It’s about good vs. evil. It’s about friendship. It’s scientific and it’s fantastical. It braids together quantum physics, Einstein’s theory on relativity and Christianity. It has a strong opinion on communism. One might even argue that the book is too on the nose in those front. In fact, I’m curious to know if the author wouldn’t have a hard time securing a publisher now as much as she had in 1960s. But ultimately, it’s about a girl trying to get to her father.

“Don’t be afraid to be afraid.”

Let’s talk about the characters. Meg, the protagonist and whom the novel follows, is outrageously plain. She has your basic government issued descriptors: she wears glasses and has teeth covered with braces and mouse-brown hair that stood wildly on end. She doesn’t understand the concept of emotional inhibition quite yet and thinks school is all wrong. She’s practically an oddball and she hates it. And these are what makes Meg so relatable. Because what 12-year-old doesn’t feel ordinary? What 12-year-old isn’t governed strongly by emotion? Meg may not have the language for what she feels all the time but she knows this: she just wants to be like the other kids. And didn’t we all want that at one point? Next up is her younger brother Charles Wallace. He is five years old, speaks complete sentences—with a set of vocabulary that includes “inadvertently” and “compulsion”—and prepares sandwiches for his family—not just PBJ mind you. But possibly the most remarkable thing about Charles Wallace is that he is not a parody. For all his precociousness, he is still liable to err. Plus, his exchanges with Mrs Whatsit are endlessly entertaining. There’s also Calvin O’Keefe. Can I hug this fella? I want to hug this fella. His experience, both at home and in school, is so disparate from Meg’s but his friendship offers nothing but comfort and support. Then there are the three Mrs, these very strange old ladies. They reminded me of the Greek gods who always ask mortals to do their bidding, except one of the Mrs casually tosses phrases in French and German and quotes Dante and Cervantes.

“”I like to understand things,” Meg said.
“We all do. But it isn’t always possible.””

Spoiler alert! If you haven’t read A Wrinkle in Time yet and wish to proceed unspoiled, you can skip to the next paragraph. Otherwise, carry on. There is a part in the book where Meg realizes her father isn’t omnipotent and that he may well be as lost as her, and I think the author did a fine job there. I’m infinitely fascinated by narratives where the young character becomes aware that her parents are also people, existing outside the realm of parenthood, capable of misjudgments and not without their own faults. Because I think it is as much a part of growing up, no matter how baffling. By the time Meg comes to this realization, it is a powerful scene. And Meg you know to be operating in extreme ends of the emotional spectrum.

“”But I wanted to do it for you,” Mr. Murry said. “That’s what every parent wants.””

At once imaginative and touching, A Wrinkle in Time teaches us courage and the importance of familial ties. Definitely recommended for fans of Lois Lowry’s The Giver.

4.0 out of 5

Author

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Madeleine L’Engle was an American writer best known for her Young Adult fiction, particularly the Newbery Medal-winning A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters. Her works reflect her strong interest in modern science: tesseracts, for example, are featured prominently in A Wrinkle in Time, mitochondrial DNA in A Wind in the Door, organ regeneration in The Arm of the Starfish, and so forth.

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Have you read this beloved classic? Do you agree that the final act felt rushed? What do you think of the three Mrs? How do you feel about the DuVernay/Disney adaptation? Also, are you a child who read Madeleine L’Engle? Sound off in the comments below!

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REVIEW: Serafina and the Splintered Heart by Robert Beatty (+ Giveaway)

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Title: Serafina and the Splintered Heart
Author: Robert Beatty
Format: ARC, 355 pages
Publication: July 4th 2017 by Disney Hyperion
Source: Publisher (thank you Sharon Keefauver and Disney Hyperion!)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy, Gothic, Historical, Mystery
Other classifications: Middle Grade

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound | Fully Booked

Synopsis

The storms are coming. . . .

Something has happened to Serafina. She has awoken into a darkness she does not understand, scarred from a terrible battle, only to find that life at Biltmore Estate has changed in unimaginable ways. Old friends do unthinkable things and enemies seem all around.

A mysterious threat moves towards Biltmore, a force without a name, bringing with it violent storms and flooding that stands to uproot everything in its path. Serafina must uncover the truth about what has happened to her and find a way to harness her strange new powers before it’s too late.

With only days to achieve the impossible, Serafina fights to reclaim herself as the guardian of Biltmore, friend of Braeden, daughter of her pa, and heroine of the Blue Ridge Mountains and all the folk and creatures that call them home.

Review

I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

Serafina and the Splintered Heart is the third and seemingly final installmentat least for nowin Robert Beatty’s middle-grade mystery series and it delivers.

The book opens with Serafina waking up in a darkness so complete even her eyes, which normally can see just fine at night, cannot pierce. She returns to Biltmore Estate, trying to piece together her memory of the night she was attacked, but everything she witnesses along the way doesn’t add up. The moon is on the wrong phase. Storms are brewing. She stumbles upon a grotesque-looking creature in the forest. And then there’s the sorcerer. But all these are nothing to what she discovers upon arriving at the great house. With a plot like that of The Splintered Heart, writing a reviewwhich is tricky enough by virtue of it being a series finaleis no easy fit. But let me tell you: Beatty once again hits all the marks. His latest is enchanting, atmospheric, and deeply satisfying.

“They watched the stars and the planets sliding slowly over their heads, marking time so precisely that it was barely perceptible, like a great, celestial clock, keeping the time of their inner lives, showing them that out there in the world everything was always changing, but here in the center of the world, where they were lying side by side, everything would always remain the same.”

It’s always bittersweet to come to the conclusion of a story, especially one that spans through three books. But the beauty of the Serafina series lies ultimately on the journey: character development after character development. In The Splintered Heart, the main characters are further thrown into hard situations, both physically and emotionally, and the author gets to show the complexity of each of them. Serafina has come a long way from the lonely, friendless girl who is constantly suspicious of people in the first book. She’s been struggling to belong, searching for herself, and trying to make sense of the world around her for a while now that it’s heartening to see where she ends up as the final act draws to a resolution. There is Braeden, genteel, affectionate, and quick to trust. Witnessing how he grapples with loss and betrayal is absolutely interesting. He and the progress of his arc bag all the waffles! There is Waysa, too, who was introduced in the previous installment. Here, he gets a solid characterization and story line, with Beatty weaving in Cherokee culture in what I think is a carefully researched representation. And there is one more whom I wish I could talk about but, alas, I would rather not spoil you. So I will leave it at this: unlikely alliance, if written well, is one of my favorite tropes, and the author did just that.

“What do you do when you realize you are the monster in your own story?”

The Splintered Heart continues to reinforce positive messages on family, friendship, and bravery. It also gives each of its characters a good amount of agency which clearly affirms that actions have consequences and we are responsible for them, that we are not our past mistakes and we have the capacity for recovery and growth. But I like that Beatty didn’t go for formulaic, an easy trap for series such as this. There are no rehashing of scenes even as the novel revisits themes and reintroduces characters. Instead, it goes full circle. It concludes in a manner that is emotionally rewarding but just loose enough to allow for future sequel(s).

“She’d spent her whole life hiding, but now she just wanted one person, any person, to know she was there.”

Of course, I’d be remiss not to comment on the setting, which plays a huge part in the narrative. I am no expert in history but the author does a wonderful job in crafting a distinct atmosphere set in the backdrop of the opulence of Gilded-Age Biltmore Estate and the rugged beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains. And this is true for all the Serafina books. Albeit, The Splintered Heart is less eerie, but no less rich in details.

With a mystery that will have you racing along with the MC, Serafina and the Splintered Heart is vastly imaginative and utterly enjoyable. This series will certainly be a staple in MG lists.

4.0 out of 5

Author

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Robert Beatty lives in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, with his wife and three daughters. He writes full-time now, but in his past lives he was one of the pioneers of cloud computing, the founder/CEO of Plex Systems, the co-founder of Beatty Robotics, and the CTO and chairman of Narrative magazine.

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Giveaway:

The giveaway, which ends July 31st, is very simple. You just head over to Twitter, follow me @mielsnickey and retweet this:

The prize pack includes one (1) signed finished copy of Serafina and the Splintered Heart, one (1) poster, one (1) journal, and one (1) enamel pin.

Blogger’s note: You can read my reviews of Serafina and the Black Cloak (Book 1) and Serafina and the Twisted Staff (Book 2) here and here, respectively.

Have you read this one yet? Have I convinced you to check out the series? What are some of your favorite MG titles? Or, you know, your recent read. Sound off in the comments below!

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REVIEW: Serafina and the Twisted Staff by Robert Beatty

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Title: Serafina and the Twisted Staff
Author: Robert Beatty
Format: ARC, 370 pages
Publication: July 12th 2016 by Disney Hyperion
Source: Publisher (thank you Sharon Keefauver and Disney Hyperion!)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy, Gothic, Historical, Mystery
Other classifications: Middle Grade

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound | Fully Booked

Synopsis

Serafina’s defeat of the Man in the Black Cloak has brought her out of the shadows and into the daylight realm of her home, Biltmore Estate. Every night she visits her mother in the forest, eager to learn the ways of the catamount. But Serafina finds herself caught between her two worlds: she’s too wild for Biltmore’s beautifully dressed ladies and formal customs, and too human to fully join her kin.

Late one night, Serafina encounters a strange and terrifying figure in the forest, and is attacked by the vicious wolfhounds that seem to be under his control. Even worse, she’s convinced that the stranger was not alone, that he has sent his accomplice into Biltmore in disguise.

Someone is wreaking havoc at the estate. A mysterious series of attacks test Serafina’s role as Biltmore’s protector, culminating in a tragedy that tears Serafina’s best friend and only ally, Braeden Vanderbilt, from her side. Heartbroken, she flees.

Deep in the forest, Serafina comes face-to-face with the evil infecting Biltmore—and discovers its reach is far greater than she’d ever imagined. All the humans and creatures of the Blue Ridge Mountains are in terrible danger. For Serafina to defeat this new evil before it engulfs her beloved home, she must search deep inside herself and embrace the destiny that has always awaited her.

Review

I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

NOTE: This review contains spoilers for Serafina and the Black Cloak.

Compellingly readable and exceedingly satisfying, Serafina and the Twisted Staff is a delightful sequel to its predecessor.

The novel picks up three weeks after the events in The Black Cloak. Serafina’s existence is now known to the folks of Biltmore Estate. Her pa is teaching her table etiquette and her momma the ways of the catamount. But the arrival of a mysterious evil force threatens Serafina’s newly found peace in her home. A near-fatal encounter in the forest. A series of puzzling attacks in Biltmore. Two strangers. One returning character. She can’t join her momma and half-siblings because she’s too human to survive in the wilds and she can’t possibly stay in the estate after a tragic accident that separates her from her only ally and friend, Braeden Vanderbilt. But she’s Serafina, Chief Rat Catcher of Biltmore Estate and Guardian of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and she’s ready to fight for her home and the humans and creatures in it. There’s quite a lot to unpack from Serafina and the Twisted Staff. For one, there’s a distinct growth in characters, themes and storytelling as the author further examines friendship, family, self-discovery, bravery and what these all mean to twelve-year-old Serafina. For another, it’s a 370 pages of running and plotting and fighting for and against animals.

“The wolves of the pack stuck together. They fought together. That’s what a family was. That’s what it meant to be kin. You didn’t give up on that.”

I command Beatty for managing to write a fast-paced, action-packed narrative while at the same time have his heroine’s different relationships with other characters be a central and overt part of the book. The mother and daughter bond is fleshed out more in the little airtime they get together. Serafina’s friendship with Braeden flourishes but also hits a roadblock. The author introduces a cast of new characters, three of whom Serafina befriends. There’s Lady Rowena Fox-Pemberton, visiting and staying in the estate indefinitely, and Essie Walker, a servant to the Vanderbilts. The former is obviously a foil to Serafina, with her snooty English conduct, and the latter is a nice, uncomplicated friendship that balances things out. And I like how the novel presents the reader with various faces of girl power through them: Serafina is fierce, loyal and will fight tooth and claw for those she loves; Lady Rowena is cunning, subverting conventional expectations time and again; and Essie is the quiet, modest kind. The third new friendship is with a feral boy, whom Serafina meets the night she is attacked by the strange bearded man and his wolfhounds in the forest, and whom I only wish we got to see more of.

“She wanted to belong. She wanted to belong more than anything.”

Another overarching themes in Serafina and the Twisted Staff are identity and sense of belongingness. Serafina’s constant struggle to bridge the gap between her two worlds and find who she is and who she can become is something readers will surely identify with, irrespective of age and gender. Although, it sometimes felt dangerously leaning towards YA territory in certain scenes (then again, I have an uncorrected copy). And you don’t need to know your history to appreciate Biltmore Estate and its lavish rooms. The author does incredibly well in setting up the scenery with expansive brush strokes, grounding it in historical accuracy but also taking artistic license here and there. Just as capable he is in pulling off the turn of events leading up to the reveal. I was utterly fooled.

“As she tried to envision her future, she realized there were many paths, many different ways to go, and part of growing up, part of living, was choosing which paths to follow.”

Immensely entertaining and positively imaginative, Serafina and the Twisted Staff is a win for middle grade fiction.

4.0 out of 5

Author

Robert Beatty 01

Robert Beatty lives in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, with his wife and three daughters. He writes full-time now, but in his past lives he was one of the pioneers of cloud computing, the founder/CEO of Plex Systems, the co-founder of Beatty Robotics, and the CTO and chairman of Narrative magazine.

Twitter | Website

Have you read this one? Have I convinced you to check it out? Are you into MG? What are some of your recent MG reads? Or your favorite ones? Throw ’em recommendations to me!

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REVIEW: Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

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Title: Serafina and the Black Cloak
Author: Robert Beatty
Format: Paperback, 320 pages
Publication: June 14th 2016 by Disney Hyperion (first published July 14th 2015)
Source: Publisher (thank you Sharon Keefauver and Disney Hyperion!)
Genre: Fiction—Fantasy, Gothic, Historical, Mystery
Other classifications: Middle Grade

Goodreads | Amazon | IndieBound | Fully Booked

Synopsis

“Never go into the deep parts of the forest, for there are many dangers there, and they will ensnare your soul.”

Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of Biltmore Estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity . . . before all of the children vanish one by one.

Review

I received a review copy from the publisher which in no way swayed my opinion about the work.

In Serafina and the Black Cloak, Beatty blends together eerie imagery, an intriguing premise, and a spunky heroine.

Set in 1899 Asheville, North Carolina, the book centers on Serafina, Chief Rat Catcher (C.R.C.) of the Vanderbilts’ estate. Her pa worked on the construction of the great house and they have lived illicitly in its basement for as long as she can remember. She naps during the day and hunts at night—and that is not the only thing unusual about her—all the while avoiding any contact with the people upstairs. Then, one night, she witnesses a frightening man as his cloak appears to consume a girl. Suddenly, children in Biltmore Estate are vanishing and Serafina races to unveil the Man in the Black Cloak before it’s too late; she is the only one who has seen him in action, after all. But first, she needs to risk exposure and team up with the landowners’ orphan nephew, Braeden Vanderbilt. As the reader follows the two uncover the mystery of the disappearances and the man responsible for them, he also follows Serafina in her self-discovery.

“She didn’t want to go another step, but friends had to help friends. She didn’t know much about life, but she did know that, knew that for sure, and she wasn’t going to run away like a scared-out-of-her-wits squirrel just when somebody needed her most.”

It is not uncommon for middle grade novels to operate in good versus evil, in which the former always prevails. The first books of the Harry Potter series easily come to mind. But every now and then, we get stories like Serafina and the Black Cloak, where the line isn’t as clear-cut, where there is a vague sense of uncertainty even as the heroine thwarts the villain. This along with Serafina’s inner journey and coupled with strong messages on family, friendship, and bravery make for a satisfying, emotionally resonant read. It is also atmospheric with its descriptive prose and Gothic setting. The author utilizes the opulent backdrop of Biltmore Estate and its surrounding landscape very well.

“She was beginning to see how difficult it was to determine who was good and who was bad, who she could trust and who she had to watch out for. Every person was a hero in his own mind, fighting for what he thought was right, or just fighting to survive another day, but no one thought they were evil.”

I’m glad this generation of young readers has Serafina to look up to. She’s fierce and loyal as well as a stockpile of curiosity and conflicting temperaments. She longs to be a part of the world of the lavishly dressed masters and guests of Biltmore, though she knows she is too strange-looking to them. She is drawn to the forest, though she is aware of the dangers lurking in the trees. And it’s this inner struggle to belong, while at the same time searching for one’s identity, while trying to make sense of the world around you that is sure to connect with readers of all ages. And her friendship with Braeden—another loner like our MC—is just heartwarming.

“Our character isn’t defined by the battles we win or lose, but by the battles we dare to fight.”

Notwithstanding a bit of rough patches here and there, Serafina and the Black Cloak is a fast-paced, suspenseful debut. Definitely recommended for its target market (8 – 12 years old) but also for everyone who’s into this type of stories.

3.5 out of 5

Author

Robert Beatty 01
Robert Beatty lives in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, with his wife and three daughters. He writes full-time now, but in his past lives he was one of the pioneers of cloud computing, the founder/CEO of Plex Systems, the co-founder of Beatty Robotics, and the CTO and chairman of Narrative magazine.

Twitter | Website

Have you read this one? Are you into MG? What are some of your favorite MG titles? Or, you know, your recent 5-star read? Come on, let’s talk!

You can also stalk follow me elsewhere! On Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Bloglovin.

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